1 of 5
Misha Japaridze, Associated Press
Mikhail Prokhorov, one of Russia's richest tycoons and New Jersey Nets basketball team owner, speaks at a press conference in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Dec. 12, 2011, as he announces his candidacy to run against Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the March 2012 presidential election. Prolhorov has been cautious not to cross Putin's path in the past, but may pose a serious challenge to Putin, whose authority has been dented by the Dec. 4 parliamentary election and recent massive street protests against alleged vote fraud.

MOSCOW — The billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets running for the Russian presidency against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is expected to formally offer to buy leading media holding on Wednesday, his representative said.

Earlier this week, Mikhail Prokhorov, who is worth about $18 billion, according to the Forbes magazine, announced his candidacy for the March presidential election.

Prokhorov will be making a formal offer Wednesday to buy the Kommersant publishing house to Alisher Usmanov, Prokhorov's spokeswoman Olga Stukalova told the Associated Press.

Metals magnate Usmanov bought Kommersant for $200 million in 2006, but the holding, which includes Russia's top business daily and other publications, has since expanded into radio and television broadcast.

Usmanov on Tuesday fired an editor and a senior manager after the Kommersant Vlast weekly published an article about alleged fraud in Russia's Dec. 4 parliamentary election. Among the accompanying photos was a picture of a ballot which contained swear words directed at Putin, and the weekly's editor Maxim Kovalsky, said it served as a reason for his ouster.

The election saw a sharp saw a sharp drop in support for Putin's United Russia party, and widespread allegations against ballot-stuffing and other violations in the vote drew tens of thousands to a protest across the river from the Kremlin — the largest show of discontent since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Usmanov explained his decision by saying that some recent reports in Vlast "bordered on petty hooliganism."

But Kovalsky's deputy, Veronika Kutsillo, said the photograph with the swear words was just a pretext behind the move by Usmanov, who previously had expressed his dissastisfaction with the magazine's contents.

"This isn't merely a punishment of an obstinate editor, it's a signal that the magazine's course must change," Kutsillo said in an e-mailed message, adding that she decided to resign.

More than 50 Kommersant journalists have signed an open letter to protest Kovalsky's firing. "We view this firing as an intimidation effort aimed at preventing any criticism of Vladimir Putin even if this concerns photographs," the letter said.

Prokhorov's presidential bid follows his botched performance ahead of the parliamentary election when he formed a liberal party with the Kremlin's tacit support but abandoned it under what he described as Kremlin pressure.

Some observers said that Prokhorov may have made amends with the Kremlin and might be running to accomodate the voters unhappy with the authorities.

__

Associated Press writer Sofia Javed contributed to this report.