A former Russian Fuel & Energy Minister and currently an energy mogul, Igor Yusufov is interested in buying Panathinaikos BC.

Yusufov is the funder of Russian based energy investment company “Fund Energy” which focuses on companies operating in energy, oil and gas, mining sectors as well as infrastructure projects. The story seems to be leaked by the Russian side itself rather than from the current owners of Panathinaikos, the Giannakopoulos family, who after decades of owneship and titles have decided to call it a day due to their age related problems.

This is not the first time “Fund Energy” is trying to enter the Greek market. Some weeks ago they were one of the fourteen bidders (even presenting Bank Guanratees worth of 400 million euros) for the Greek state owned Gas Company, which is valued around two billion Euros according to Wall Street Journal.

However their bid was ruled out of the competition due to political pressure from the USA who don’t want to see Russia expand its energy presence and influence to Greece. This is exactly why the Russians are looking for a leverage in Greece and one form could be sports clubs, as “Fund Energy” have already appealed the decision of Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, claiming it was illegal and unjustified and is seeking to annul the tender.

Another bidder for the company (as well as for Hellenic Petroleum) is Gazprom (which was said to be also behind “Fund Energy” bid as a “Plan B” in case their bid lost in earlier rounds of the tender), at which Igor Yusufov is a member of the Board of Directors. Russian energy companies are looking to enter the Greek business market after the discovery of natural gas south of Crete with long-term investments with a strategic corporate significance, and are willing to use investments-sponsorships to popular Greek sports clubs as a vehicle to gain public support from the local population and political world. Panathinaikos BC, the most successfull Greek sports club of all times, is a strong candidate with its leading position not only in Greece, but also on the European basketball stage.

The Dagestani born Yusufov was Energy Minister from 2001 to 2004, when he moved to the Kremlin as a special envoy and advisor of Vladimir Putin for international energy cooperation, a position he held until recently. “Fund Energy” currently owns or is actively seeking to invest and buy into energy and shipping sectors in several countries including England, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Greece. He is considered as one of the “architects” of the Nord Stream pipeline, where his son had earlier served as Head of Moscow branch.

Being a part of Putin’s inner circle he has been given the task to put the Russian strategic plan of entering the Greek and Southeastern Mediterranean energy sector into action and he has already been active in Cyprus.

However, Yusufov is not the only candidate. There is said to be interest in Panathinaikos BC ownership by Americans and Arabs as well, while there are already talks between the Giannakopoulos family and Russian oil giant Rosneft. The Russian government owned company which has annual revenue of 92 billion euros is interested in the Euroleague champions and Giannakopoulos family are willing to give them the club for free under two conditions: Keep Zeljko Obradovic and and have an annual budget of at least 15 million euros.

Rosneft accountants are already going through Panathinaikos BC books while their executives have been given invitations for Istanbul Final Four where the club aspires to win a rare back-to-back Euroleague title.