Why Aren't Russian Billionaire Owners Of Brittney Griner's Basketball Team Helping Get Her Out Of Prison?

Zinger Key Points
  • Russian oligarchs who made money in gas, oil, precious metals used proceeds to buy sports teams.
  • As much as $1 trillion in Russian wealth is stowed in offshore companies in places like Switzerland, Cyprus and even the U.S.

Brittney Griner’s recently upheld nine-year sentence to be served in a Russian penal colony, let’s admit, evokes some horrifying images and brings to mind Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” Set in a Soviet labor camp, the short novel describes the prisoner’s struggle for human dignity.

Judging from the images of the six-foot-nine WNBA superstar's appearances in a Moscow court over these past months, Griner appears to have her human dignity intact. 

What About The Billionaire Owners Of Griner’s Russian Basketball Team?

Dignity does not come to mind when pondering the inaction of the Russian oligarchs who have said nothing to their friend Vladimir Putin, that we know of, nor pressured him to give the 32-year-old basketball player a break and allow her to walk free.

Wonder Why? This Could Shed Some Light

The team Griner has played on for the past seven years during the off-season, the UMMC Yekaterinburg is controlled by Russian billionaires Iskander Makhmudov and his business partnerAndrei Kozitsyn. The two men also run the Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company, one of Russia’s top producers of copper, zinc, coal, gold and silver.

Proceeds from mining helped Makhmudov and Kozitsyn invest in women’s basketball and other sports in Russia, like martial arts, hockey, motorcycle racing, table tennis, etc. 

The Invasion That Changed Everything 

The day Russia invaded Ukraine, Putin called together at least 13 of the country’s wealthiest businessmen - the oligarchs who surfaced after the collapse of the Soviet Union and began scooping up investment interests in major industries like gas, oil and precious metals.

The purpose of the meeting other than to tell them that the invasion was a “necessary measure,” was to also let his friends know (as if they didn’t already) that they would likely face economic sanctions from the U.S. and European Union. 

Too Late For Some To Stash Their Assets

Roman Abramovich, former owner of the Chelsea Football Club had his $4.5 billion London assets (about a third of his total) either sold or frozen after the Feb. 24 invasion.

Russian oligarchs have been hiding their assets for years. As much as $1 trillion in Russian wealth is stowed in offshore companies in places like Switzerland, Cyprus and even the United States. 

Makhmudov and his Griner team-owning partner Kozitsyn were at the Putin meeting that day and except for the sanctions, they have reportedly not suffered too terribly. 

Makhmudov (net worth $9.41 billion), who has been accused of racketeering,  fraud, bribery and attempted murder, also co-owned two British Virgin Islands companies with fellow billionaire Andrey Bokarev (net worth $2.2 billion). 

Kozitsyn, (net worth $3.8 billion) whose rap sheet is either shorter or less well known, was added to the EU’s sanctions list for financially supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  

While these facts don't answer the question of why Makhmudov and Kozitsyn are not pushing for Griner's release, stories about Putin's vitriol when someone dares to question or criticize his actions have circulated for years.

Dignity? That went out with Ivan Denisovich.

Photos: Wikimedia Commons

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