Roman Abramovich hands over Chelsea FC ‘management’ to charity

Roman Abramovich has said he is handing over day-to-day management of Chelsea football club, as Russia’s assault on Ukraine leads to calls for targeted Western sanctions against the elite group of oligarchs linked to the president Vladimir Poutine.

The Russian-Israeli businessman announced on Saturday that he would hand over management of the English Premier League side to his charitable foundation.

Abramovich was not on a list of Russian individuals targeted by UK economic sanctions this week, despite calls from at least one Labor MP for his assets to be seized.

His ownership of Chelsea made Abramovich an unlikely household name in English football and beyond, while also serving as a stark, early example of how the Russian top flight sought to grab the trophy assets. UK.

“He is really doing it to prevent the club from becoming hostage to anti-Russian sanctions, which will last for some time now,” a friend of the billionaire told the FT.

The announcement does not mean Chelsea are for sale but is meant to allay concerns that have gripped the club, its manager and its players since the war began earlier this week, according to people familiar with the matter.

“In my almost 20 years as owner of Chelsea FC, I have always considered my role as the club’s goalkeeper,” said Abramovich. “I have always made decisions in the interests of the club.”

“That’s why today I entrust the trustees of the Chelsea Charitable Foundation with the management and care of Chelsea FC,” he added.

Bruce Buck, an American who is the club’s chairman and who has worked closely with Abramovich for years since he was a senior solicitor in the London office of US law firm Skadden Arps, declined to comment.

The war in Ukraine triggered the beginnings of a Western sports boycott of Russia. Earlier this week the Champions League final, the biggest match in European club football, was moved from St Petersburg to Paris.

This season’s Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix has been cancelled. The International Olympic Committee has urged sports bodies to stop hosting events in Russia or its close ally Belarus. Other sports groups have pulled out or begun to re-evaluate Russian corporate sponsorships.

Buyers have been swirling around Chelsea for years and in 2018 Abramovich appointed US investment bank Raine to value the team after several interested buyers approached to acquire it.

Earlier that year, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire founder of chemicals group Ineos, withdrew a bid after being quoted a sale price of over £2billion, according to people familiar with the talks. Private equity group Silver Lake also showed interest that year.

Abramovich’s Fordstam entity, through which he owns Chelsea, has racked up losses of nearly £1.1billion through June 2021. Fordstam is nearly £1.5billion in debt. pounds sterling in the form of loans from Abramovich. In theory, he could call on the debt, which would have to be repaid within 18 months.

Abramovich’s wealth transformed Chelsea into one of the most powerful teams in world football, spending hundreds of millions of pounds on superstar players and coaches.

Under his ownership, the club won the Champions League twice, among many major titles. As recently as February, he celebrated on the pitch with the players after Chelsea won the FIFA Club World Cup tournament in Abu Dhabi.

His fortune helped Chelsea revolutionize football on and off the pitch, creating a domestic rival for then-dominant Manchester United and ushering in a new era of big-money foreign owners in the Premier League.

Abramovich made his fortune in turbulent 1990s Russia by acquiring privatized state oil and gas assets and then selling them back to the Kremlin at a big profit. He owns an estate on so-called Billionaire’s Row in Kensington Palace Gardens and, together with his partner Alexander Abramov, controls London-listed steelmaker Evraz.

In 2018, Abramovich withdrew his UK visa renewal application after authorities delayed his processing following the nerve agent poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury. . He remained active in club affairs but preferred to watch most Chelsea games on television, according to friends. The oligarch then became an Israeli citizen later that year and obtained a Portuguese passport in 2021.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, his daughter Sofia, 27, shared a post on Instagram that read: ‘Putin wants war with Ukraine’, according to screenshots posted on social media . “The biggest and most successful Kremlin propaganda lie is that most Russians are on Putin’s side.”

On Saturday, Garage, the contemporary art museum in Moscow which he co-founded with his former partner Dasha Zhukova, said in a statement that it would “stop working on all exhibitions until the human and political tragedy taking place in Ukraine has ceased”.

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