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Abramovich pushes to sell Chelsea as lawmakers target owner

March 2, 2022 GMT
FILE - Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich attends the UEFA Women's Champions League final soccer match in Gothenburg, Sweden on Sunday, May 16, 2021. Abramovich, a former Russian provincial governor and Vladimir Putin ally who became a steel and metals magnate, is now a dual Israeli citizen with a net worth estimated at more than $13 billion. He has used his fortune to buy the British soccer club Chelsea and homes in London and New York. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
FILE - Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich attends the UEFA Women's Champions League final soccer match in Gothenburg, Sweden on Sunday, May 16, 2021. Abramovich, a former Russian provincial governor and Vladimir Putin ally who became a steel and metals magnate, is now a dual Israeli citizen with a net worth estimated at more than $13 billion. He has used his fortune to buy the British soccer club Chelsea and homes in London and New York. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
FILE - Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich attends the UEFA Women's Champions League final soccer match in Gothenburg, Sweden on Sunday, May 16, 2021. Abramovich, a former Russian provincial governor and Vladimir Putin ally who became a steel and metals magnate, is now a dual Israeli citizen with a net worth estimated at more than $13 billion. He has used his fortune to buy the British soccer club Chelsea and homes in London and New York. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
FILE - Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich attends the UEFA Women's Champions League final soccer match in Gothenburg, Sweden on Sunday, May 16, 2021. Abramovich, a former Russian provincial governor and Vladimir Putin ally who became a steel and metals magnate, is now a dual Israeli citizen with a net worth estimated at more than $13 billion. He has used his fortune to buy the British soccer club Chelsea and homes in London and New York. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
FILE - Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich attends the UEFA Women's Champions League final soccer match in Gothenburg, Sweden on Sunday, May 16, 2021. Abramovich, a former Russian provincial governor and Vladimir Putin ally who became a steel and metals magnate, is now a dual Israeli citizen with a net worth estimated at more than $13 billion. He has used his fortune to buy the British soccer club Chelsea and homes in London and New York. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

LONDON (AP) — Facing calls to be included in sanctions against Russians, Roman Abramovich is trying to offload Chelsea — the Premier League club he turned into an elite trophy-winning machine with his lavish investment.

One potential buyer went public to reveal how the Russian oligarch is already trying to sell the Premier League club after 19 years with a price tag of at least $2.5 billion floated.

Throughout Wednesday, Chelsea and Abramovich’s representatives did not dispute Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss claim that he “received an offer on Tuesday to buy Chelsea from Abramovich” along with three other people.

The speed of Abramovich’s potential exit from Chelsea is striking as he was trying to instigate a plan over the weekend to relinquish 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 was quoted as telling Swiss newspaper Blick. “Abramovich is currently asking far too much.”

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As Russia’s war on Ukraine entered a seventh day, the British government was yet to say if Abramovich would be included among the wealthy Russians to be targeted in sanctions.

Alisher Usmanov, a Russian metals tycoon who is a major sponsor of Everton, has already been sanctioned by the European Union. The Premier League club on Wednesday suspended sponsorships with Usmanov’s firms, including USM which has the naming rights to the training ground and paid 30 million pounds ($40 million) for the same rights to a new stadium being built 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 facing sanctions yet.

“We must stand up to Putin and those who prop up his regime,” Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said to Johnson. “Roman Abramovich is the owner of Chelsea Football Club and various other high-value assets in the United Kingdom. He’s a person of interest to the Home Office because of his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activity and practices.”

Chelsea owes Abramovich more than 1.5 billion pounds ($2 billion) in loans after 19 years of injecting cash to elevate the club into one of the most successful in Europe. The Blues won the Club World Cup for the first time last month — in front of Abramovich in Abu Dhabi — after securing a second Champions League title last year.

Wyss said he would only be interested in joining a “consortium consisting 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 for a rebuild of the 41,000-capacity venue put on hold by Abramovich in 2018 as British-Russian diplomatic tensions deepened.

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The need for upgrades at Stamford Bridge, the debt and the potential need for a rapid sale could hamper Abramovich receiving the asking price — as could any government intervention.

Parliamentary privilege had been used by Labour Party legislator Chris Bryant to claim in the House of Commons on Tuesday that Abramovich was already looking to sell London properties, speculating that “he’s terrified of being sanctioned.”

Bryant added: “The danger is that Mr. Abramovich will have sold everything by the time we get round to sanctioning him.”

Abramovich tried to distance himself from decision-making at Chelsea for the first time on Saturday by announcing plans to shift the “stewardship and care” of the club its foundation trustees. But the Charity Commission, which regulates the Chelsea Foundation, has received a “serious incident report” from the Foundation’s trustees amid concerns about how Abramovich’s plan can be enacted.

Abramovich has faced calls to condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine which he hasn’t done yet.

In 2012, a High Court judge in London highlighted Abramovich’s connections to Putin in a ruling related to a legal battle. Judge Elizabeth Gloster said Abramovich had “very good relations” and “privileged access” to Putin though adding he could not “pull the presidential strings”. Abramovich has denied taking any orders from Putin.

Abramovich rarely speaks publicly but did give an interview to Forbes last year, in part explaining the purchase of Chelsea in 2003 for 140 million pounds including 75 million pounds of debt.

“In hindsight, especially with the public profile it would bring me, maybe I would have thought differently about owning a club,” Abramovich was quoted as telling Forbes. “But, at the time, I just saw this incredible game and that I wanted to be a part of that in one way or another.”

Abramovich was last seen in public at the Club World Cup final last month. His last public visit to a match at Stamford Bridge was last year after also hosting Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the stadium in November.

Abramovich has not had a British visa since 2018 when a renewal application was taking longer than usual to go through and was withdrawn. That came at a time when Britain pledged to review the long-term visas of rich Russians in the aftermath of the poisonings of Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury. Britain blamed Russia for the pair’s exposure to a nerve agent, an allegation Moscow denies, and Abramovich is not linked to.

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