Skip to main content

Prokhorov: Metals mogul hoping to shine in Kremlin race

By Peter Wilkinson, CNN
March 2, 2012 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mikhail Prokhorov to challenge Russian PM Vladimir Putin for presidency
  • Billionaire Prokhorov sold most of his assets before global economic crash
  • Prokhorov entered politics only recently, but was ousted as leader of party

(CNN) -- Mikhail Prokhorov, who is challenge Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Sunday's presidential election after collecting two million signatures to support his campaign, has the reputation as a financial sage.

In 2008 shortly before the global economy crashed, the bank executive turned investor sold off many of his minerals assets, a decision he said was inspired partly by good planning, partly by fortune.

"In business you need to have luck," he told CNN's Matthew Chance. "Sometimes you have great strategy, but something goes wrong. You can't cover all the risks in your life."

Prokhorov's hunch that "this crisis is more global" than previous ones certainly came true, and his decision to cash in means he is now tied for 32nd on Forbes' World's Billionaires list, with assets of $18 billion. In the United States he owns the New Jersey Nets basketball team.

Asked by CNN's Chance about his reputation as an international playboy, he laughed. "I don't care. I try to act natural," he said, adding that he had "no time" to think about having a family.

"I like business, it's my profession," Prokhorov said. "I spend, like, 15 hours a day in the office. It's the great joy in my life, and I never think about money."

As was the case with many other Russian oligarchs, Prokhorov, whose wealth grew with minerals and metals investments, built his fortune in the years following the fall of Communism in the early 1990s.

Inside the mind of an NBA team owner
Insight on Russias richest man

According to Forbes, he and associate Vladimir Potanin, who is at 34 on the Forbes' rich list and was a onetime deputy prime minister under former President Boris Yeltsin, wooed the corporate customers of two huge Soviet-era banks as their holding company Interros acquired interests in metals, engineering, agriculture and media. Prokhorov and Potanin cultivated ties with the Kremlin and attended meetings with Putin, and during the commodities bubble last decade their company took off.

In 2007, Prokhorov was arrested on suspicion of trafficking prostitutes (and released without charge) in the French ski town of Courchevel. In March 2007, Pravda reported his resignation as general director and president of OAO Norilsk Nickel, a subsidiary of Interros.

The following year, according to Forbes, he sold his 25% stake in Norilsk Nickel, the world's largest producer of nickel and palladium, to fellow billionaire Oleg Deripaska in exchange for $7 billion in cash and a 14% stake in the world's top aluminum producer UC Rusal.

"In my perception, the raw materials market was overvalued -- we had a strategy to leave and to diversify," Prokhorov said of his decision.

The sale allowed him to buy the New Jersey Nets in 2009, and he has a 45% stake in the team's real estate project to build a new arena in Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards in 2012. The Muscovite is also publishing a Russian-language magazine Snob in the U.S. while he has invested $200 million to develop Russia's first hybrid car, the Yo.

Prokhorov entered politics only recently, according to the website Russiapedia. In June this year, he joined the right-wing party Right Cause, and was elected its leader. "Prokhorov claimed he could replace Vladimir Putin as Russia's prime minister if the party succeeded in polls and at some point even hinted that he could become president.

"However, party veterans got extremely upset by the businessman's goals and in early September a Right Cause congress ousted Prokhorov and his key allies from the party."

Many a businessman has come unstuck in politics. Now, as Prokhorov prepares to enter the election, he will need all his good fortune to continue if he is to beat Putin.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
March 6, 2012 -- Updated 0227 GMT (1027 HKT)
Vladimir Putin's victory seems certain, but what does his return mean for Russia and its relationship with the world?
March 5, 2012 -- Updated 1217 GMT (2017 HKT)
Profile of the former KGB agent who has dominated Russian politics for more than a decade.
As Putin declares victory Matthew Rojansky details who stands to gain.
March 6, 2012 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
The Russian spring may have been postponed this year, both on and offline.
A look back at some of the pictures that have defined the career of Vladimir Putin.
March 3, 2012 -- Updated 0909 GMT (1709 HKT)
Examining Russia's prospects under a new Putin leadership.
February 21, 2012 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he would not need to resort to fraudulent tactics to win back the presidency.
Vladimir Putin's election campaign focuses on militarizing the Russian economy.
February 27, 2012 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Anti-corruption groups vow to field an army of volunteer monitors at Russian polling stations.
February 28, 2012 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
CNN's Phil Black investigates the mood in rural Russia ahead of the presidential election on Sunday.
March 2, 2012 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russians go to the polls on Sunday March 4 to elect a new president. Who is running and what will the poll mean for Russia?
February 29, 2012 -- Updated 1357 GMT (2157 HKT)
Phil Black explains why Vladimir Putin could take over as leader of a country that has changed dramatically
March 2, 2012 -- Updated 1726 GMT (0126 HKT)
Phil Black meets Alexei Navalny, who has emerged as one of the most charismatic leaders of Russia's opposition movement.
March 1, 2012 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
The Communist Party still has strong support, but CNN's Phil Black reports it's struggling to prevent another Putin term.
September 26, 2011 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
The announcement that Vladimir Putin will, if elected as president, appoint incumbent Dmitri Medvedev as PM brings to mind one of the most famous lines of Italian literature.
ADVERTISEMENT