London: The United Kingdom has frozen the assets of Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, 55, as the Boris Johnson government steps up sanctions against prominent Russians over their country’s invasion of Ukraine. Abramovich and six others face a full asset freeze and travel ban, and are prohibited from transacting with UK citizens or businesses, the UK Foreign Office said in a statement today, reports Bloomberg.
The latest move is a huge obstacle in Abramovich’s way as he tries to sell his English Premier League side which he bought in 2003, and raises questions about the future of the club. As of now, Chelsea FC can’t sell new tickets for matches, including those in the European Champions League, and the club’s merchandise stores will be closed, according to the UK Treasury. Player transfers are also banned, as are new contracts. Chelsea’s long-term future is even murkier.
Abramovich had announced his intention to sell Chelsea FC amidst growing speculation that he would face sanctions, and said the proceeds would go to “all victims of the war in Ukraine”.
Others sanctioned were Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin, whom the British government described as Vladimir Putin’s “right-hand man”, and the head of Gazprom Alexei Miller. Also on the list were VTB bank chairman Andrey Kostin, Transneft president Nikolai Tokarev and Bank Rossiya chairman Dmitri Lebedev. The seven men reportedly have a collective net worth of about $19.7 billion (nearly Rs 1,600 thousand crore), and all are said to be part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the sanctions “the latest step in the UK’s unwavering support for the Ukrainian people”, while his Foreign Secretary Liz Truss added, “Today’s sanctions show once again that oligarchs and kleptocrats have no place in our economy or society. With their close links to Putin, they are complicit in his aggression. The blood of the Ukrainian people is on their hands. They should hang their heads in shame.”
The British government has said it will “mitigate the effect of the sanctions on Chelsea” by allowing the club to continue to operate. A special license “authorises a number of football-related activities”, the government said in a statement.
“This includes permissions for the club to continue playing matches and other football-related activity which will in turn protect the Premier League, the wider football pyramid, loyal fans and other clubs,” the statement added.
Selling the club or transferring players were not included on the list of permitted activities, thereby stalling Abramovich’s plans to offload the club. The Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation said the asset freeze restrictions applied to “any entities that are owned or controlled by Roman Abramovich”.
Last week, Abramovich had announced that he had made the “incredibly difficult” decision to sell Chelsea FC and pledged that proceeds would go to victims of the Ukraine war. The multi-billionaire was reportedly looking for a bid in the region of £3 billion (roughly Rs 30,000 crore) for the club he bought for £140 million (about Rs 14,000 crore).
Abramovich changed the operating style of English football when he took over Chelsea, turning a moderately successful side into a European powerhouse and ushering in an era of big money in the league. Under his ownership, Chelsea have won 19 major trophies, including their first two Champions League crowns and five English Premier League titles.