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"Why should people get to see plans? This isn't a public project."
Bruce Ratner in Crain's Nov. 8, 2009

"Miracle Happens": 60 Minutes Pitches Softballs to Prospective Nets Owner Mikhail Prokhorov

Norman Oder dissects the astonishingly vapid, softball-laden-happyfest between prospective Nets Owner Mikhail Prokorov and 60 Minutes' clubbing Steve Kroft:
In "The Russian Is Coming," 60 Minutes' Kroft pitches softball questions to insouciant billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov

The CBS newsmagazine show 60 Minutes is surely capable of tough investigation; in 2003, it ran a tough piece on eminent domain abuse around the country, even mentioning an episode in which the New York Times "teamed up with a major real estate developer" to get New York State to use eminent domain for a new Times headquarters.

That very same "major real estate developer," Forest City Ratner, has achieved similar success in getting the state to declare the Atlantic Yards site blighted, but that's not the story 60 Minutes wanted this time.

It sought a "get"--an exclusive interview with expected Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and, in the segment broadcast tonight, The Russian Is Coming, correspondent Steve Kroft lobbed softball questions at the billionaire, partied with him (as in screenshot at right), and generally couldn't suppress a grin from his face.

Prokhorov maintained his own lighthearted mien, playfully parrying questions, and even claiming that spending time in detention in France was "fun for me." However, as Dave D'Alessandro of the Star-Ledger noted, "there was very little substance about where he came from."

Nothing about Atlantic Yards controversy

Though Kroft obligatorily reported on the questionable--but, domestically, legal--source of Prokhorov's wealth, not a word was mentioned of any controversy involving Atlantic Yards, much less the questionable use of significant subsidies, tax breaks, and the extraordinary power eminent domain to benefit Russia's richest man.

And CBS came up with this insightful description:
If everything goes according to plan, two years from now he plans to move the Nets to a brand-new arena in Brooklyn, home to the largest Russian-American community in the United States.

The screen flashed from a rendering of the (unnamed) Barclays Center to a street scene in Brighton Beach, some eight miles away, as if there's any connection. And, of course, Prokhorov wouldn't be moving the Nets on his own; there's a tremendous amount of government help.
...

But [in The Times Richard] Sandomir missed one moment of tension in the 60 Minutes piece.

"Do you think he's a man of character?" Kroft asks Stern.

"I think he's a man who's passed a very tight security check," Stern replies deliberately, "and nobody has come up with any reason why he shouldn't be an NBA owner."

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it is an acknowledgment that Prokhorov has the cash the league desperately needs--and why the Nets, as in screenshot at left, are enthusiastically promoting the interview.

Or, as D'Alessandro put it:

So when it comes to NBA ownership, it’s all about stacks of money – and a willingness to flaunt them – so that is what the CBS program made the emphasis of its 14-minute segment.
Starting off

The piece begins with Kroft referring to a sports team as "the ultimate vanity investment... now, the most exclusive club in America is about to get a Russian."

But the only reason it's an exclusive club is the cartel system that limits the number of major league sports teams and leads cities and states to try to poach such teams.

"It's not that often you get to sit down and talk to a rich Russian, and we couldn't pass up the opportunity," Kroft declares, setting a low bar.

"For me, life, and business in particular, is a big game," says Prokhorov in his Russian-accented English. We see him with his JetSki and kickboxing with the coach of the Russian national team.

"Do you like danger?" Kroft asks.

"I like to control risk," Prokhorov responds.

"I am addicted to sport," Prokhorov adds. "Without sport I feel bad."

"How much time do you spend working out every day?" Kroft probes.

"Two hours."

"For someone who likes sports, stress, and challenges, there is probably no better buy than the New Jersey Nets," says Kroft in his narration. "For a few hundred million dollars, Prokhorov is just a few formalities away from acquiring 80 percent of the worst team in the National Basketball Association."

Stern enters to say it's a sign of the sport's globalization. Kroft notes that it also has something to do with the recession

Around Russia

"He flew us to Siberia to check out Russia's richest gold mining company," Kroft says. (I'm assuming that 60 Minutes didn't take a freebie.)

We learn of Prokhorov's business empire, including aluminum company, a media company, banks, an insurance company, and real estate. His house has a built-in swimming pool and, of course, a fitness center. He's got a model of his 200-foot yacht."

Kroft drinks wine with Prokhorov, who confides, ""Frankly speaking, I like women. In my heart, I am still teenager."

Kroft joins Prohorov at Moscow's exclusive SoHo club, surrounded by 20 beautiful women.

The business background

"I am lucky to have enough money to be really independent, but it doesn't drive me just to count money," Prokhorov declares. "It's only a side effect of what I am doing in business."

"Like most Russian billionaires," Kroft says in his narration, "Prokhorov's fortune was melded from the ashes of the former Soviet Union, with a little bit of luck and the help of a powerful political connection."

That connection was named Vladimir Potanin, who brought the market-educated Prokhorov into a banking partnership, making him a multimillionaire.

Then, as Kroft says in his narration, "In 1995, Kremlin leaders gave them what amounted to an insider's opportunity to buy one of the state's most valuable assets, the huge mining and metals operation called Norilsk Nickel, which is among the world's largest producers of nickel, copper, and platinum. They acquired it from the Kremlin in a so-called auction for the measly sum of a few hundred million dollars, in a process that even Prokhorov's business partner admitted wasn't perfect, and probably not even legal under Western standards. But it was legal in Russia."
Actually, looking at the Atlantic Yards deal and many others, perhaps it would have been "legal under Western standards." Oder continues with his blow-by-blow of the segment:
For context, Yulia Latynina, one of Russia's top business journalists, tells 60 Minutes "it was rigged. But it cannot be explained in normal economic terms."

"This is just the way things work," says Kroft.

"You had robber barons. We had oligarchs," responds Latynina.

And Prokhorov transformed the company, taking it public and selling it at the perfect time, just before the market crashed, thanks to the "Courchevel incident" involving some young women imported by Prokhorov who French officials thought might be prostitutes.

"It's a part of any business to be lucky," Prokhorov says.

"And you sold at just the right time," Kroft says.

"Miracle happens," responds Prokhorov.
...
Miracles do happen, such as Russia's richest man stepping in to bail out a broke developer subsidized by New York taxpayers and the government's gift of eminent domain. THAT is a miracle.

Cotinue reading Oder's article which runs through the rest of the 60 Minutes puff piece.



Posted: 3.29.10
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Eminent Domain Case
Goldstein et al v. ESDC
[All case files]

November 24, 2009
Court of Appeals
Ruling

[See ownership map]

EIS Lawsuit

DDDB et al v ESDC et al
Click for a summary of the lawsuit seeking to annul the review and approval the Atlantic Yards project.

Appeal briefs are here.

2/26/09
Appellate Divsion
Rules for ESDC
What would Atlantic Yards Look like?...
Photo Simulations
Before and After views from around the project footprint revealing the massive scale of the proposed luxury apartment and sports complex.

Click for
Screening Schedule
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Isabel Hill's
"Atlantic Yards" documentary
Brooklyn Matters


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Atlantic Yards
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