Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich succumbed Wednesday to growing pressure to sell English soccer club Chelsea FC over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Abramovich released a lengthy statement giving his reasoning. While he hasn’t called on Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine, he said the proceeds from the sale would go to benefit war victims.
"I would like to address the speculation in media over the past few days in relation to my ownership of Chelsea FC," he said in a statement. "As I have stated before, I have always taken decisions with the Club’s best interest at heart. 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.
"The sale of the Club will not be fast-tracked but will follow due process. I will not be asking for any loans to be repaid. This has never been about business nor money for me, but about pure passion for the game and Club. Moreover, I have instructed my team to set up a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated. The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine. This includes providing critical funds towards the urgent and immediate needs of victims, as well as supporting the long-term work of recovery."
Abramovich, who is worth more than $13 billion, bought the club for more than $187 million in 2003.
Here's a few more details about Abramovich.
Abramovich's cash injection into Chelsea led to many successes on the field since 2003.
The Blues have won five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, two Champions League titles, two Europa League titles and a Club World Cup win in 2021.
Some of the star players to play for the club during Abramovich’s tenure have included Eden Hazard, Petr Cech, Frank Lampard, Christian Pulisic, Eiður Guðjohnsen and John Terry.
According to Forbes, Abramovich owns stakes in Britain’s Evraz – a steel manufacturing and mining company – and Russia’s Norilsk Nickel – a mining and smelting company. He also sold his 73% in Russia’s Sibneft to Gazprom in 2005 for $13 billion. He is also the founder of Millhouse Capital LLC, an investment firm.
Abramovich also owns one of the world’s largest superyachts. The Eclipse is 533 feet long, has two helicopter pads, 1 mini submarine and three landing boats. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, it also has a missile detection system. The yacht can reportedly fit up to 70 crew members and has 11 cabins.
British lawmakers had come on strong against Abramovich.
While U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it would be "inappropriate" to comment on individual cases, Labour Party leader Keir Starmer took aim at Abramovich.
"We must stand up to Putin and those who prop up his regime," Starmer said. "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."
Labour Party legislator Chris Bryant used parliamentary privilege to say Abramovich was already looking to offload other London properties in fear of being sanctioned.
"The danger is that Mr. Abramovich will have sold everything by the time we get round to sanctioning him," Bryant said.
British commentator Piers Morgan added: "Abramovich sells Chelsea - but still doesn’t say a single word of condemnation for what his mate Putin’s done."
Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss told Swiss media he received an offer to buy Chelsea along with three people. Chelsea and Abramovich’s representatives reportedly didn’t dispute the claim.
"Abramovich is trying to sell all his villas in England, he also wants to get rid of Chelsea quickly," Wyss told Switzerland’s Blick. "Abramovich is currently asking far too much."
However, Wyss said he would want a group to help facilitate the purchase. Chelsea is said to be worth about $3.34 billion.
Wysss is an 86-year-old billionaire. He is reportedly worth about $5.1 billion, according to Forbes. He sold Synthes USA to Johnson & Johnson for nearly $20 billion.
Alleged Putin ties
Abramovich’s relationship with Putin has been thrust into the spotlight several times over the last decade or so.
According to the book "The Crisis of Russian Democracy: The Dual State, Factionalism and the Medvedev Succession," Abramovich suggested to Boris Yeltsin that Putin become the successor as Russian president. He had interviewed potential cabinet members before Putin signed off on them during his reign as prime minister.
In 2012, a London High Court judge suggested that Abramovich had "very good relations" and "privileged access" to Putin though he couldn’t "pull the presidential strings." Abramovich denied the claim.
In 2020, a book published by HarperCollins suggested that Abramovich purchased Chelsea at the behest of Putin. Abramovich won a lawsuit against the publisher and author and received an apology with the references removed, The Jerusalem Post reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.