The United States and European Union have imposed visa bans and asset freezes on officials and businessmen believed to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin in protest at Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the Brooklyn Nets, had said before that he planned to relocate the company that runs the NBA team to Russia, but his comments to reporters in the Kremlin underlined his support for Putin.
“A Russian company will own the basketball club,” Prokhorov said before receiving a medal for services to Russia along with other national sports officials.
“This (move) does not violate any NBA (U.S. National Basketball Association) rules and I will bring it (under Russian jurisdiction) in accordance with Russian law.”
Prokhorov himself has not been hit by Western sanctions and, although he ran against Putin in the 2012 presidential election, he has underlined his loyalty to the president.
Putin waged war on the so-called oligarchs who amassed political influence as well as vast riches under former President Boris Yeltsin.
Some oligarchs have been driven out of Russia, former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed for more than a decade on financial crimes charges, and those who remained have largely stayed out of politics.
Prokhorov, one of Russia’s richest men, made his fortune by acquiring former state assets during the chaotic years after the 1991 disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Prokhorov, with an estimated $10.3 billion fortune according to Forbes magazine, has owned other sports clubs as well, including European basketball powerhouse CSKA Moscow, but sold most of them several years ago.
(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Editing by Mark Heinrich)