BERLIN – Mikhail Prokhorov’s wealth is estimated at $10.2 billion, but a tiny portion of his assets — a media company with a market cap of just $32 million — is putting the rest of his Russian business at risk. President Vladimir Putin is willing to tolerate relatively independent media companies, as long as they’re small and don’t get too close to subjects that are uncomfortable for him. Prokhorov owns a popular media operation that has been too unafraid to show its teeth.
Prokhorov is something of a rarity among Russian billionaires. Cash and market investments make up almost half of his fortune, and the most expensive asset he controls is in the United States, not Russia — the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA team’s arena. Yet he has significant Russian assets, too, such as large stakes in Uralkali, the world’s biggest potash company, and Rusal, Russia’s No. 1 aluminum producer. That makes him hostage to Putin, who considers Russia’s billionaires — formerly known as oligarchs — merely as temporary holders of state property.