Mikhail Prokhorov

The story of the former Russian biathletes suing doping whistleblower Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov for libel (after his testimony led to them losing their medals from the 2014 Sochi Olympics) in a New York court has taken an interesting twist with the response from Rodchenkov’s lawyer, which comes in the form of a letter to Brooklyn Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov (seen above).

The athletes’ lawyer, Scott Balber, said publicly last week that Prokhorov is helping fund the lawsuit along with others, without providing any further names. That led to Rodchenkov’s lawyer Jim Walden responding to Prokhorov in a letter threatening a countersuit and insinuating that the Russian government may be involved in this libel suit.

A copy of the letter was provided to Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff and can be viewed in full below:

Letter To Mikhail Prokhorov by Mindy Katzman on Scribd

The letter asks for the preservation of Prokhorov’s communications with the athletes involved, as well as others, including “any or current or foreign Russian government officials, Russian law enforcement officers, officers or agents of the FSB (Russia’s Federal Security Service), or representatives of the Russian Olympic Committee” about the lawsuit or about Rodchenkov. Isikoff’s piece notes the complicated interplay here and the further comments from both sides:

Scott Balber, the New York lawyer for the Russian athletes, has acknowledged that Prokhorov is helping to finance the lawsuit along with unnamed others. “I am not at liberty to identify anyone else other than Mr. Prokhorov,” Balber said in an email Monday, when asked who else was bankrolling the lawsuit.

…“Mr. Balber’s admission that unnamed ‘others’ are also financing this lawsuit is strange — raising the specter that the Kremlin itself might be acting through proxies here,” Walden said in a statement to Yahoo News. “Certainly, this could be problematic for all involved in this shady suit.”

…Asked for comment, Balber called Walden’s letter “a publicity stunt” and said, “As far as I know, there is absolutely no Russian government role in the filing of the lawsuit. This appears to be complete fiction.” He added: “The sole purpose of this lawsuit is to clear the names of three hard-working, world-class Olympic athletes, and to obtain compensation for the economic loss they have suffered as a result of Mr. Rodchenkov’s false and defamatory statements.”

So there are a whole lot of accusations going on here, from Walden raising the spectre of Russian government involvement to Balber calling that “a publicity stunt” and “complete fiction.” And a further layer comes from Isikoff’s piece noting that Balber currently represents Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov and son Emin Agalarov, figures in the Trump-Russia investigation, and that Balber previously represented Trump in a 2013 lawsuit (later withdrawn) going after Bill Maher for likening Trump’s hair to an orangutan’s.

Oh, and Walden, a former federal prosecutor, has said he’s been warned by U.S. officials that Russian officials are looking for Rodchenkov (in hiding in the U.S. after his whistleblowing revelations about Russian doping, many of which are detailed in the Netflix film Icarus), and has said he’s concerned this lawsuit may be trying “to find him through judicial means.”

Beyond that,  the response to Prokhorov is certainly interesting, as is the discussion of a potential countersuit and the request to preserve any potential communications between Prokhorov and Russian government officials. And Prokhorov’s involvement has brought a new dimension to this Olympic doping fight, and one that the NBA’s leadership may be watching closely.

We’ll see how this plays out in court, but there’s a lot involved, from the Olympics to the NBA to perhaps even the Russian and/or American governments. And it should be a notable storyline to watch for a while.

[Yahoo News]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.