Roman Abramovich selling Chelsea in fallout from Russia’s invasion


LONDON, England (AP) – Faced with the danger of financial penalties on Russians, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich said on Wednesday that he is looking to sell the Premier League team that he helped transform into a trophy-winning machine via his extravagant investment.

Roman Abramovich selling Chelsea in fallout from Russia’s invasion, Russia-Ukraine War:
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The decision by the billionaire oligarch to sell his most high-profile asset is one of the clearest indicators yet that President Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Ukraine is having an impact on Russia's corporate elite. Abramovich's ownership of Chelsea has given him a household figure in the United Kingdom, and lawmakers have demanded that he be added to the list of rich and prominent Russians facing British sanctions as a result of the conflict.

In a statement, Abramovich added, "Please know that this has been an extraordinarily difficult choice to make, and it hurts me to part with the club in this way." "However, I feel this is in the club's best interests."

A possible bidder had previously gone public with the news that Abramovich was looking to sell for at least $2.5 billion. Hansjorg Wyss, a Swiss millionaire, stated he and three other persons "got an offer on Tuesday to acquire Chelsea from Abramovich."

Abramovich, on the other hand, stressed that "the sale of the club would not be rushed, but will follow proper protocol."

Abramovich has said that he would not seek repayment for the 1.5 billion pounds ($2 billion) in loans he has given the club over the course of 19 years of putting money into the club to help it become one of Europe's most successful. Chelsea won the Club World Cup last month, completing the collection of all major trophies.

"I've told my staff to establish up a benevolent foundation to which all of the sale's net revenues would be given," he stated. "All victims of the Ukrainian conflict will benefit from the foundation."

Abramovich has been pressured to criticize Russia's aggression on Ukraine, but he has so far refused.

Labour Party lawmaker Chris Bryant invoked parliamentary privilege in the House of Commons to assert that Abramovich was already attempting to sell London homes, saying that "he's scared of being sanctioned."

Abramovich has been silent about any efforts to recover his assets, which built from his wealth in oil and aluminum during the turbulent years after the Soviet Union's fall in 1991.

The rapidity with which Abramovich is leaving Chelsea is startling, given that he was attempting to enact a plan this past weekend to surrender some power in order to maintain the club within his ownership, declaring intentions to transfer the club's "stewardship and care" to its foundation trustees.

"I hope to be able to pay one final visit to Stamford Bridge to say farewell to all of you," Abramovich stated. "It's been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of Chelsea FC, and I'm happy of all we've accomplished together." Chelsea Football Club and its fans will always have a special place in my heart."

When Abramovich acquired Chelsea in 2003, the team had only won the league championship once, in 1955. The team won the Premier League championship two years later, aided by a number of high-profile transfers, and has added four more titles since then, the most recent in 2017.

He has 18 trophies in 19 years, including two Champions League crowns and the Club World Cup victory he saw last month in Abu Dhabi.

After entertaining Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the stadium in November, he made his final public appearance during a match at Stamford Bridge last year.

Abramovich is seldom seen in public, although he did give a Forbes interview last year in which he explained in part why he paid 140 million pounds for Chelsea in 2003, including 75 million pounds in debt.

"In retrospect, particularly given the public notoriety it would bring me, I may have thought twice about buying a club," Abramovich told Forbes. "But, at the time, I was simply seeing this beautiful game and wanting to be a part of it in some way."

Abramovich was the first of the mega-rich owners to invest in English football, kicking off a trend that has seen Manchester City profit from Abu Dhabi investment since 2008 and Saudi Arabia's national wealth fund purchase Newcastle last year.

Chelsea's financial situation is unknown as a result of the transaction. Stamford Bridge requires long-term renovations in order to earn more revenue from spectators and corporate sponsors. Chelsea's 41,000-capacity stadium is the smallest and most antiquated of the Premier League's most successful teams, with plans for a redevelopment put on hold by Abramovich in 2018 as British-Russian political tensions grew.

Abramovich has not had a British visa since a renewal application was canceled in 2018 because it was taking longer than normal to process. In the aftermath of the poisonings of Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury, Britain committed to reconsider the long-term visas of wealthy Russians. The duo were exposed to a nerve toxin, which Britain blames on Russia, which Moscow rejects.

For years, Abramovich's ties to Putin have been the focus of conjecture.

In a judgment connected to a court struggle in 2012, a High Court judge in London underlined Abramovich's ties to Putin. Abramovich had "extremely excellent ties" and "special access" with Putin, according to Judge Elizabeth Gloster, albeit he couldn't "pull the presidential strings." Putin has denied giving Abramovich any commands.

On Wednesday, another Premier League team lost a significant Russian-linked sponsorship as a result of the war's reverberations.

Everton has halted business with companies controlled by Alisher Usmanov, a Russian metals magnate sanctioned by the European Union. USM, one of Usmanov's companies, holds the name rights to the training site and paid £30 million ($40 million) for the same rights to a new stadium under construction in Liverpool.

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