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Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich selling Chelsea soccer club, with proceeds to help victims of Ukraine war

Likely in order to avoid seizure, he is listing exclusive London real estate, while other uber-wealthy compatriots move their yachts to international waters

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Russian businessman Roman Abramovich said on Wednesday he had decided to sell Chelsea Football Club, 19 years after buying the London team, and promised to donate money from the sale to help victims of the war in Ukraine.

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“I have always taken decisions with the club’s best interest at heart,” Abramovich said in statement published by the reigning European and world soccer champions on their website.

“In the current situation, I have therefore taken the decision to sell the club, as I believe this is in the best interest of the club, the fans, the employees, as well as the club’s sponsors and partners.”

Abramovich said he would not ask for loans he has made to the club — reported to total US$2.0 billion — to be repaid to him and the sale would not be fast-tracked.

He said he had told his aides to set up a charitable foundation that would receive all net proceeds from the sale.

“The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine,” Abramovich said in the statement.

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“This includes providing critical funds towards the urgent and immediate needs of victims, as well as supporting the long-term work of recovery.”

This move could be seen as moving himself away from being still considered a Moscow ally, as he has long been understood to be a Putin supporter.

Abramovich was in Moscow on Monday — or at least his private jet, a palatial Boeing 787, departed an airport near Monte Carlo on Monday and landed in Moscow, according to online aircraft tracking services. It left Tuesday morning.

Roman Abramovich applauds Chelsea, as players celebrate their 2017 league title win at the end of the Premier League football match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge in London.
Roman Abramovich applauds Chelsea, as players celebrate their 2017 league title win at the end of the Premier League football match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge in London. Photo by AFP via Getty Images, file

FOOTBALL

On Saturday, Abramovich had said he was giving “stewardship” of Chelsea to six trustees of the club’s charitable foundation, but announced on Wednesday he was selling it outright. At least two trustees had raised concerns privately of being compromised. Some believed the organization is an inappropriate vehicle to run a soccer business.

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Prior to the announcement, Swiss business tycoon Hansjoerg Wyss was reported to be considering buying the club, but interested parties may have to wait to find out if they are even able to trade with Abramovich.

Swiss newspaper Blick quoted Wyss as saying “I, along with three other people, received an offer on Tuesday to buy Chelsea from Abramovich.”

Wyss said he would have to wait four or five days to see how things play out.

Sources close to the process said that as many as eight multi-billionaires were being sounded out about their appetite to buy the club. Abramovich is said to have turned down an offer of £2.5 billion for the club from an unidentified third party earlier this week, Sky News reports. That may have been from U.S. financier Todd Boehly, who presented a “massive” offer, according to the Mail.

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Stamford Bridge stadium, the home ground of Chelsea Football Club, has long needed a rebuild.
Stamford Bridge stadium, the home ground of Chelsea Football Club, has long needed a rebuild. Photo by Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

The team’s Stamford Bridge stadium is in need of rebuilding, but few want to take on the price tag that would run to more than £1 billion.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday declined to comment on whether Britain would impose sanctions on Abramovich, but said the vice was tightening on those around Putin. Immigration officials are reportedly under instructions to make it impossible for Abramovich to base himself in the U.K., the Daily Mail notes.

Abramovich vehemently denies he is close to the Kremlin or has done anything that would merit sanctions being imposed against him.

Abramovich, 55, who holds Israeli and Portuguese citizenship, earned enormous fortunes after the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. Forbes has put his current net worth at US$13.3 billion.

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He has in recent days put at least the Chelsea club, his London mansion and a Thames-side penthouse on the market, if not quietly more. These are moves that experts interpret as signs of anxiety over potential asset freezes. He also owns property in France, Russia, the U.S. and the Caribbean.

REAL ESTATE

The way Russians have used London as a place to park potentially ill-gotten monies has earned it the nickname The Laundromat, the Washington Post notes.

The oligarchs have bought up so much of the priciest property in the city, it’s also become known as Londongrad.

Abramovich’s 15-bedroom Kensington Palace Gardens mansion — on Billionaire’s Row along with several high-security embassies and gated entry — is said to be for sale now, valued at more than £150 million pounds ($250 million). He bought the property for £90 million in 2009.

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Chinese buyers are said to be interested in the property, the Mail notes, but a sale could be a drawn-out affair given the due diligence required.

A development in which Abramovich is selling a penthouse on the Chelsea waterfront in London.
A development in which Abramovich is selling a penthouse on the Chelsea waterfront in London. Photo by Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

Abramovich’s 6,000-sq.-ft. three-storey 35th-floor Chelsea Thames-side condo is said to be worth £22 million. He also owns a smaller, £8-million flat nearby, with a wine cellar, gym and spa.

Other Abramovich properties include the Chateau de la Croe, which Abramovich has spent millions restoring since 2001. The property in the south of France once hosted the Duke of Windsor and Winston Churchill, and is now valued at £87 million, according to a 2021 property report in the dailystar.co.uk. It features a rooftop swimming pool and a gym and cinema in the basement.

On 200 acres, his £18-million ranch on the 3,000-metre-high Wildcat Ridge near Aspen features a low-slung modern home with 11 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms in 14,000 sq. ft. He also owns a ski lodge there, close to the ski runs.

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In St. Barts, he owns the Gouverneur Bay Estate, with five Balinese-style bungalows and access to a private beach, outdoor stage, outdoor cinema and two tennis courts. It is said to be worth £54 million.

Homes owned by Abramovich stand along East 75th Street in Manhattan.
Homes owned by Abramovich stand along East 75th Street in Manhattan. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

U.S. President Joe Biden told oligarchs in Tuesday’s State of the Union address that “we are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.” In New York City, Abramovich owns a group of homes under construction along E. 75th St. It is unclear whether this is to be personal residence or an investment.

In Israel, Abramovich purchased a six-bed hotel in 2015, the U.K.’s Daily Star says. He plans to renovate it into a 12-bedroom mansion and add a two-storey wing.

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Abramovich also owns a mansion in Moscow and various properties across Russia but little information is available on those.

Russian property owners seem to generate ironic nicknames for the various locations they purchase homes.

The island of Cyprus has long played an integral role in helping oligarchs make moves to the West, Washington Post writes.

Dubbed Moscow-on-the-Med, Cyprus became a major magnet for magnates — from Russia and beyond — as it has long provided EU passports and a number of banks with a relaxed stance on money laundering.

Oligarchs like using the island as a base for operations as they direct their money back home. One seaside town has even been nicknamed Limassolgrad.

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A sign in Cyrillic reads “LimassolGrad” in the Cypriot seaside town of Limassol, heavily favoured by Russians.
A sign in Cyrillic reads “LimassolGrad” in the Cypriot seaside town of Limassol, heavily favoured by Russians. Photo by Christina ASSI / AFP / Getty

The most expensive house in Cyprus in 2019, valued at more than $40 million, was owned by Abramovich.

Russia’s wealthiest woman, Elena Baturina, with a $1.3 billion fortune, has built a high-end 12-storey residential development of more than 7,000 square metres next to the beach and close to the Limassol city centre — exclusively for the wealthiest Russians. Baturina also has commercial and residential real estate in the EU, U.S., Kazakhstan and Russia, and hotel interests in Ireland, the Czech Republic and Russia.

YACHTS

An estimated seven to 10 per cent of the global superyacht fleet is owned by Russians, according to industry watcher Superyacht Group.

Abramovich’s $850-million superyacht, the 139-metre Solaris, was recently moved to Barcelona for a refurbishing, but could be seized by Spain should the EU decide to institute sanctions. His 163-metre Eclipse is currently in Sint Maartin.

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The Solaris superyacht, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, moored in Barcelona on March 1.
The Solaris superyacht, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, moored in Barcelona on March 1. Photo by Angel Garcia/Bloomberg

Other wealthy owners of such yachts, including CEO Andrey Kostin of Russia’s giant VTB bank, are moving their floating mansions to international waters to avoid such a fate. These superyachts are a target, as they represent a very tangible manifestation of the corruption at the heart of Putin’s regime.

At least five oligarchs have moved theirs to the Indian Ocean, cruising around the Maldives and Seychelles, according to Bloomberg. While the Seychelles can seize property with its extradition treaty with the U.S., which has also vowed sanctions, the Maldives does not have such a treaty.

The 140-metre Ocean Victory, currently in Dubai, belongs to steel magnate Victor Rashnikov, according to SuperyachtFan.com, while another — the 80-metre Clio — is linked to aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska. The 155-metre Nord, owned by Alexei Mordashov, another steel billionaire, is in the Seychelles after sailing from the Maldives, the data show. Russian banker Andrey Kostin’s Sea Rhapsody is heading to the island chain after having departed Turkey on Feb. 18.

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PHILANTHROPY

And in an interesting twist on the sanction issue, Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial and museum, has become embroiled in controversy after attempting to intervene in sanctions against Abramovich.

In a letter to U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides, Yad Vashem and the country’s chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau and Sheba Medical Center Director Yitshak Kreiss asked that the United States not sanction Abramovich, a major donor to the memorial and other Jewish causes. They said that sanctioning him would cause harm to Jewish institutions that rely on him for donations, according to Israeli press.

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