Mikhail Prokhorov, man of mystery

Lev Navrozov

Who is Mikhail Prokhorov? His is not an unfamiliar name to American sports fans.

A Russian billionaire entrepreneur, he became the owner of the American basketball team the New Jersey Nets in 2010: “A Russian tycoon with a longstanding passion for basketball agreed to a $200 million deal … that will make him the principal owner of the New Jersey Nets and a key investor in the team’s proposed new home in Brooklyn” (Bagli, Charles V, New York Times, Sept. 23, 2009).

Pedestrians walk past a poster with the face of Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov hanging near Moscow's Red Square on Aug. 5. Prokhorov said he will challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for the top job. The poster reads "Power is in truth. Who is just, is stronger." /Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

On Dec. 12, at a hastily arranged news conference in Moscow, Mikhail Prokhorov announced that he would challenge Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the presidential elections next March.

Radio Ekho Moskvy positively responded to the news: “Prokhorov will not try to build some parody of the Soviet Union. Prokhorov will not tell us antediluvian ghost stories about NATO and America and spend half the budget on the production of obsolete tanks.”

“I have made the most serious decision of my life. I am running for president,” Mr. Prokhorov said at a news conference.

He went on to say that he would not build his presidential campaign on criticism of Mr. Putin. “Criticism must make up no more than 10 percent … I would like to focus on the things I would do,” he said.

At his Dec.12 news conference, Mr. Prokhorov offered no political platform, saying he would publish it later.

Earlier this year, Mr. Prokhorov made a short-lived effort to challenge Putin’s United Russia party in December of this year parliamentary elections. Later, however, he resigned from his own party, the Right Cause party, following an internal power split, which he blamed on the Kremlin and for which he accused Kremlin strategist Vladislav Surkov, who through his influence had undermined the party unity.

Mikhail Dmitrievich Prokhorov was born in Moscow in 1965. A Russian citizen, he lives permanently in Moscow.

After graduating from the Moscow Finance Institute, Prokhorov made his name in the financial sector and went on to become one of Russia’s leading industrialists in the precious metals sector.

According to the Forbes 2011 listing, “Prokhorov is the third richest man from Russia and the 32nd richest man in the world with a fortune estimated at $18 billion.”

Prokhorov is the former president of ONEXIM Group, a $17 billion private investment fund which he said could almost double in value by developing energy, nanotechnology, and mining projects. The fund would also develop energy projects, including hydrogen fuel cells as well as high-technology projects and nonferrous and precious metals mining.

“We are a big player and we are going to deal with projects costing $1 billion and more,” said Prokhorov. “We have a very ambitious task to build one of the largest private investment funds in the world specializing mainly in innovation projects.” Prokhorov went on to say that “ONEXIM would focus on nanotechnology, producing materials with ultra-tiny structures used in energy generation and medicine.”

In June, when he entered Russian politics, Prokhorov gave up his top position at the ONEXIM Group.

Amongst his numerous business, financial, and charitable undertakings, one of the most popular is the Cultural Initiatives Foundation, founded in 2004 as part of the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation. It has worked to modernize and stimulate the cultural and intellectual environment in the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia.

The Foundation is headed by Prokhorov’s elder sister, Irina, the editor-in-chief of the prominent Russian publishing house “Novoye Literaturnoye Obozreniye.”

Mikhail Prokhorov strongly believes in giving back to the community. His philanthropic endeavors focus on culture and sports — two of his great passions.

Rumors have been circulating in Moscow media reports that Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov has been holding talks with Prokhorov on the possible sale of his Kommersant publishing house to Prokhorov.

Meanwhile, Prokhorov’s representative said on Dec. 14 that Prokhorov is definitely interested in the purchase of the publishing house, and that this move is not linked with his decision to run in Russia’s upcoming presidential election.

Prokhorov also could consider an idea of Usmanov to merge their media assets — Kommersant and media holding RBC — Prokhorov’s representative said. He declined to disclose any price details of the yet-to-be-made offer to buy Kommersant. However, the offer could concern the estimation of both media assets, he added.

Lev Navrozov can be reached by e-mail at levnavrozov@gmail.com.

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