LONDON (AP) — Faced with the threat of financial sanctions targeting Russians, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich confirmed Wednesday he is trying to sell the Premier League club he turned into an elite trophy-winning machine with his lavish investment.
Abramovich’s trophy asset made him a high-profile target for politicians demanding he be included among wealthy and influential Russians hit with British sanctions after a week of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“Please know that this has been an incredibly difficult decision to make, and it pains me to part with the club in this manner,” Abramovich said in a statement. “However, I do believe this is in the best interest of the club.”
It is one of the most stunning business repercussions of President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Russia’s neighbor.
“The sale of the club will not be fast-tracked but will follow due process,” Abramovich’s statement added.
The Russian billionaire said he will not be asking to be repaid 1.5 billion pounds ($2 billion) in loans he has granted the club during 19 years of injecting cash to elevate the team into one of the most successful in Europe.
“I have instructed my team to set up a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated,” he said. “The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine.”
Abramovich has faced calls to condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which he so far has not done.
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.”
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.
The speed of Abramovich’s pending exit from Chelsea is striking as he was trying to instigate a plan this past weekend to relinquish some control in order to keep the club under his ownership. But the charity regulator began investigating an attempt to try to distance himself from decision-making at Chelsea for the first time by announcing plans to shift the “stewardship and care” of the club its foundation trustees.
“I hope that I will be able to visit Stamford Bridge one last time to say goodbye to all of you in person,” Abramovich said. “It has been a privilege of a lifetime to be part of Chelsea FC and I am proud of all our joint achievements. Chelsea Football Club and its supporters will always be in my heart.”