Roman Abramovich Cedes Control of Chelsea After Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 26, 2022

** FOR ARCHIVE ** Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and his girlfriend, former model Daria Zhukova attend Manchester United against Chelsea Champions League final soccer match at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Wednesday May 21, 2008. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Abramovich alongside ex-wife Dasha Zhukova. AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich announced Saturday he's handed over control of the Premier League club to trustees of its charitable foundation.

Abramovich, who purchased the Blues in 2003, released a statement about his decision:

"During my nearly 20-year ownership of Chelsea FC, I have always viewed my role as a custodian of the Club, whose job it is ensuring that we are as successful as we can be today, as well as build for the future, while also playing a positive role in our communities. I have always taken decisions with the Club's best interest at heart. I remain committed to these values. That is why I am today giving trustees of Chelsea's charitable Foundation the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC.
"I believe that currently they are in the best position to look after the interests of the Club, players, staff, and fans."

The 55-year-old Russian businessman, whom Forbes lists as having a $13.6 billion net worth after a career in the oil industry, didn't provide a reason for stepping aside.

Journalist Fabrizio Romano reported the Blues are not for sale and the owner's decision was made to "help and protect the club."

Ashley Lutz of Fortune reported Thursday there was mounting pressure to force Abramovich to sell the English side after Russia's military invasion of Ukraine because of his links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

UK parliament member Chris Bryant raised questions Thursday about the Chelsea owner's business activity based on a 2019 government document about his "links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activity and practices," per Peter Walker of the Guardian.

Bryant said the document alleged Abramovich admitted in "court proceedings that he paid for political influence" and suggested that's enough to strip him of his Chelsea ownership.

"That's nearly three years ago. And yet remarkably little has been done," Bryant said. "Surely Mr. Abramovich should no longer be able to own a football club in this country? Surely we should be looking at seizing some of his assets, including his £150 million home, and making sure that other people who have had Tier 1 visas like this are not engaged in malign activity in the UK?"

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday that Abramovich was "already facing sanctions," but his spokesperson later confirmed Johnson "misspoke" when he made that remark, per BBC News.

The United Kingdom and the United States have issued sanctions against Putin and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov following the attack on Ukraine, which is ongoing and moved into the capital city of Kyiv on Saturday, according to CNN

In October, Abramovich returned to the UK for the first time in three years after visa issues related to the country's crackdown on "powerful Russians," per Will Pugh of the Sun.

The charitable foundation leadership group that will take over Chelsea on an interim basis includes club chairman Bruce Buck, women's team manager Emma Hayes, John Devine, Piara Powar, Paul Ramos and Sir Hugh Robertson.

It's unclear how long the transfer of power is expected to last.

The Blues, who've won 18 trophies during Abramovich's tenure, are scheduled to face Liverpool in the EFL Cup final Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London.