EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Prospective New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov came to his own defense Monday and was backed by the NBA after a congressman accused the Russian billionaire's company of violating sanctions and U.S. law by doing business with the government of Zimbabwe.
"Onexim Group takes very seriously the issue of law and sanctions as applied to Zimbabwe," Prokhorov said in a statement released through his company during the Nets' final game at the Meadowlands. "Contrary to erroneous media reports, the company and all of its holdings have always been in strict compliance with all United States and European rules regarding Zimbabwe and have had no dealings whatsoever with companies or individuals on the sanctions list."
"Onexim Group and Mikhail Prokhorov have been open and transparent about
all their business dealings throughout the extensive NBA review process,
and they intend to maintain this position going forward," the statement said.
New Jersey congressman Bill Pascrell has called for a government investigation (through the U.S. Treasury department, which monitors sanctions) of Prokhorov's business dealings in Zimbabwe, alleging the NBA's background check on Prokhorov was "disgusting."
Prokhorov agreed in December to buy 80 percent of the Nets and 45 percent of the planned Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., from Bruce Ratner's Forest City Ratner Cos.
The sale of the Nets remains on hold. After originally saying the sale of the Nets would be voted on sometime in the first quarter of this year, the league now says the transaction is being held up indefinitely.
"Congressman Pascrell is misinformed," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said. "U.S. companies are not prohibited from doing business in Zimbabwe; rather, they are prohibited from conducting business with specifically identified individuals or entities in that country. The NBA is aware of no information that Mr. Prokhorov is engaged in business dealings with any of these individuals or entities.
"Mr. Prokhorov's application is still on track to be voted on by the NBA Board of Governors once a firm date is set for the State of New York to take full possession of the arena site," Bass said.
Prokhorov has been seen as somewhat of a savior for the Nets, who will be at least $23 million under the salary cap heading into the offseason. The billionaire has the money to spend on free agents, and this might be a bumper crop with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Rudy Gay all eligible to go on the market.
For much of this season, the Nets threatened to break the NBA mark for fewest wins (nine) in a season, set by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.