Abramovich pushes to sell Chelsea as owner target of lawmakers
Facing calls to be included in sanctions against the Russians, Roman Abramovich is trying to offload Chelsea – the Premier League club he turned into an elite trophy-winning machine with his lavish investment.
A potential buyer has gone public to reveal how the Russian oligarch is already trying to sell the Premier League club after 19 years with a floating price of at least $2.5 billion.
Throughout Wednesday, representatives for Chelsea and Abramovich did not dispute Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss’ claim that he “received an offer to buy Abramovich from Chelsea on Tuesday” along with three others.
The speed of Abramovich’s potential exit from Chelsea is striking as he attempted to put in place a plan this weekend to give up some control to keep the club.
“Abramovich is trying to sell all his villas in England, he also wants to get rid of Chelsea quickly,” Wyss told Swiss newspaper Blick. “Abramovich is currently asking far too much.”
As Russia’s war against Ukraine entered its seventh day, the British government had yet to say whether Abramovich would be included among the wealthy Russians targeted by sanctions.
Alisher Usmanov, a Russian metals tycoon who is one of Everton’s main sponsors, has already been sanctioned by the European Union. The Premier League club on Wednesday suspended sponsorships with Usmanov’s businesses, including USM which owns the naming rights to the training ground and paid 30 million pounds ($40 million) for the same rights on a new stadium under construction in Liverpool.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was not “appropriate” to comment on individual cases when asked in the House of Commons why Abramovich was not yet under sanctions.
“We have to stand up to Putin and those who support his regime,” Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labor Party, told Johnson. “Roman Abramovich is the owner of the Chelsea football club and various other high-value assets in the United States. He is a person of interest to the Ministry of the Interior because of his ties to the Russian state. and its public association with corrupt activities and practices.
Chelsea owe Abramovich more than 1.5 billion pounds ($2 billion) in loans after 19 years of cash injections to make the club one of the most successful in Europe. The Blues won the Club World Cup for the first time last month – ahead of Abramovich in Abu Dhabi – after claiming a second Champions League title last year.
Wyss said he would only be interested in joining a “consortium of six to seven investors” to buy Chelsea. The club has the smallest and most dated stadium of the Premier League’s most successful clubs, with plans to rebuild the 41,000-seater venue put on hold by Abramovich in 2018 as Anglo-Russian diplomatic tensions s intensified.
The need for improvements at Stamford Bridge, debt and the potential need for a quick sale could prevent Abramovich from receiving the asking price – as could any government intervention.
Parliamentary privilege had been used by Labor Party lawmaker Chris Bryant to claim in the House of Commons on Tuesday that Abramovich was already looking to sell properties in London, speculating that “he is terrified of being sanctioned” .
Bryant added: “The danger is that Mr. Abramovich will have sold everything by the time we get to sanction him.”
Abramovich tried to distance himself from decision-making at Chelsea for the first time on Saturday when he announced his intention to move the club’s “stewardship and care” away from its founding trustees. But the Charity Commission, which regulates the Chelsea Foundation, received a ‘serious incident report’ from the Foundation’s trustees amid concerns over how Abramovich’s plan may be passed.
Abramovich has been called on to condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which he has yet to do.
In 2012, a High Court judge in London highlighted Abramovich’s ties to Putin in a decision related to a legal battle. Judge Elizabeth Gloster said Abramovich had “very good relations” and “privileged access” to Putin, while adding that he could not “pull the presidential strings”. Abramovich denied taking orders from Putin.
Abramovich rarely speaks in public but gave an interview to Forbes last year, explaining in part the purchase of Chelsea in 2003 for £140m including £75m in debt.
“In hindsight, especially with the public profile it would bring me, I might have thought differently about owning a club,” Abramovich told Forbes. “But, at the time, I had just seen this incredible game and I wanted to be a part of it somehow.”
Abramovich was last seen in public at the Club World Cup final last month. His last public visit to a game at Stamford Bridge was last year after he also hosted Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the stadium in November.
Abramovich has not had a UK visa since 2018 when a renewal application was taking longer than usual and was withdrawn. It came at a time when Britain pledged to review long-term visas for wealthy Russians following the poisonings of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English town of Salisbury . Britain blamed Russia for the couple’s exposure to a nerve agent, an allegation that Moscow denies and to which Abramovich is not linked.
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