Mikhail Prokhorov, who most Americans know as the New Jersey Nets' eccentric, jet ski-loving owner, is causing a stir in Mother Russia.
Prokhorov, who is the country's third richest person, abandoned his Kremlin-backed Pravoye Delo (Right Cause) political party on Thursday, calling for others to join him.
“To all followers who supported me, I call on you to quit this party bought by the Kremlin,” Prokhorov said at a party meeting in Moscow today.
With Prokhorov's support, the pro-business Right Cause was expected to run in the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections. As an ally of Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party, the seats they might have gained would have further increased Putin's already overwhelming hold on the country.
But the billionaire said that Right Cause party was hijacked by outside raiders. Prokhorov was not invited to the opening of the conference, which was supposed to be a talk on the party's manifesto, but executive committee chief Andrei Dunayev registered a number of delegates behind Prokhorov's back.
This move sparked Prokhorov's fury, and he immediately signed an order to disband the executive committee and expel Dunayev “for inflicting political damage.”
The Right Cause party was established in 2008, after the merger of three center-right parties, and Prokhorov took the helm earlier this year. Much like the make-up of Italy's Northern League party, the Right Cause party was one of many smaller parties loyal to United Russia.
United Russia often uses questionable legal tactics to limit the influence of rival parties, and Putin could make it difficult for Prokhorov, should Prokhorov make any future political moves.
For example, Yukos Oil owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia's richest man, found himself convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005 -- charges he believes are linked to his financial backing of opposition parties.
We have a puppeteer in the country, who long ago privatized the political system and who for a long time has disinformed the leadership of the country about what is happening in the political system, who pressures the media, places people [in the media] and tries to manipulate public opinion, Prokhorov said, referring to Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin's seldom-glimpsed political strategist.
In June, the Russian Ministry of Justice refused to allow new opposition party The People's Freedom Party to enter the upcoming elections, citing a number of violations on its applications. The denied application again raised questions about the fairness of Russia's government.
It was quite a predictable decision, Ilya Yashin, leader of the party's Moscow branch, told The Moscow Times at the time.