“I spent 10 years there, so I know the way things work,” said Taurasi, who has played for Russian teams and is the leading scorer in W.N.B.A. history. “It’s delicate.”
UMMC Yekaterinburg paid Taurasi a reported $1.5 million to skip the 2015 W.N.B.A. season and play only in Russia.
“It was a very personal choice,” Taurasi told The New York Times at the time. “My agent said it would be financially irresponsible not to do it.”
UMMC Yekaterinburg, based in the city of the same name and roughly a two-hour flight from Moscow, is controlled by the oligarch Iskander Makhmudov and his business partner, Andrei Kozitsyn. Makhmudov and Kozitsyn head Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company, which mines commodities like copper, zinc, coal, gold and silver, and is one of Russia’s top producers.
They were part of a wave of oligarchs who amassed their wealth after the collapse of the Soviet Union by investing in industries like gas, oil and precious metals. Following Putin’s ascent, oligarchs like Roman Abramovich, Alisher Usmanov and Mikhail Prokhorov bought into prominent sports franchises, like the soccer teams Chelsea and Arsenal F.C. and the N.B.A.’s Nets.
While some owners had legitimate reasons for investing in sports, others who funded or purchased teams were doing so at least in part to seem more legitimate to American and British authorities, according to Karen Greenaway, a retired F.B.I. agent who investigated international corruption and spent a part of her career in the former Soviet Union. Makhmudov has been linked to criminal activity and has business associations with other oligarchs tied to organized crime in Russia, according to civil suits lodged in the United States and the United Kingdom by competitors and law enforcement officials.
Makhmudov was accused of being involved in a scheme to take over the Russian aluminum industry, according to a civil case filed in New York in 2000. In it, Makhmudov and two other oligarchs, Oleg Deripaska and Michael Cherney, were accused of a racketeering scheme which involved fraud, bribery and attempted murder. They contested the allegations, and the case was dismissed in the United States because the judge consented to move it to Russia.