Pascrell questions sale of Nets to Russian billionaire

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) wants the National Basketball Association to review a deal for a controversial Russian billionaire to purchase the New Jersey Nets. Mikhail Prokhorov, a 44-year-old nickel and gold producer considered to be the richest man in Russia, has announced plans to purchase an 80% stake in the NBA team for a reported $200 million.

"Mr. Prokhorov's background raises questions about his fitness to be the owner of a high-profile NBA franchise," Pascrell wrote to NBA Commissioner David Stern. "Both Mr. Prokhorov's business and personal history have come under intense scrutiny in his home country and abroad."

Pascrell, citing media reports, says that Prokhorov has agreed to finance much of the construction costs for a new arena in Brooklyn. The current Nets owner, Bruce Ratner, could lose his tax-free financing if he doesn't break ground by December, and is facing some financial and legal obstacles.

"According to documents released by the Empire State Development Corporation, taxpayers are providing over $2 billion dollars in financing and direct grants towards the Atlantic Yards project," Pascrell said. "This represents a significant investment and risk by the taxpaying public. Should this sale go through, a large stake in the project, as well as a majority stake in the Nets, would be controlled by a foreign corporation, a first for the NBA."

Pascrell says that taxpayers would be "directly subsidizing the profits and business risks of this foreign corporation, whose investment will be reportedly smaller then the public's, instead of benefiting the taxpaying public.

"Especially during these tough economic times, this is, at best, a questionable use of taxpayer money and it is a question that should be explored," said Pascrell.

"The governor still has to come to bat."
—Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, on Atlantic City.