MOSCOW (AP) — Billionaire New Jersey Nets owner and former Russian presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov said Saturday he's leaving business to focus full-time on politics, returning to the political arena after remaining silent through a five-month Kremlin crackdown on the opposition.
The 47-year-old Prokhorov, who is believed to be worth about $13 billion, finished third in Russia's presidential election in March amid speculation that his candidacy was orchestrated by the Kremlin. Though he denied the claim, he was nowhere to be seen as the government launched a crackdown on the opposition this spring, arresting activists and introducing new harsh legislation.
Prokhorov appeared Saturday at the first conference of the party he set up several months ago, announcing that he would put his money in a trust fund and let his partners at the investment vehicle Onexim run the shop.
Prokhorov told reporters after the conference that he wants to lead "a third power" in the country, competing both with the Kremlin and the opposition.
Although the tycoon frequented last winter's protest rallies before the crackdown, he has always been moderate in criticizing President Vladimir Putin and preferred to distance himself from anti-Putin opposition leaders like Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov.
Elsewhere in Moscow, Navalny and other opposition figures held the first session of a council to organize resistance to Putin, calling it the first democratically elected body in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Over 80,000 people voted for the council last weekend, mostly online.
Navalny, a charismatic anti-corruption activist who chaired the meeting, said the council had a "huge mandate of trust" allowing leaders to speak for the tens of thousands who participated in street protests last winter.
Max Seddon contributed to this report.