Roman Abramovich appears to be on a mission to get his assets out of Europe as sanctions tighten.
His superyacht Solaris, worth £430m, is heading south, apparently towards Turkey, after docking in Montenegro on Sunday. Previously, it had been at a repair yard in Barcelona – and had it remained there it might well have been seized by now.
Due to sanctions passed last week, any cash or property the Chelsea FC owner holds in the UK are now frozen. His shares on the London stock exchange cannot be sold and won’t pay dividends, and he can no longer benefit from the planned £3bn sale of the club. He is also banned from entering the UK.
Abramovich’s journey back to Russia
Abramovich’s second superyacht, Eclipse, is off the coast of Algeria. Its closest European port is Italy – where another oligarch, Andrey Melnichenko, recently had a £444m superyacht seized by authorities as part of EU sanctions.
On Sunday night, Abramovich made a whistle-stop trip to Israel, where he is a citizen. Israel currently has no sanctions on Russian oligarchs, and the billionaire owns property in the country.
He was photographed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on Monday afternoon before flying for a brief stop in Istanbul; Turkey is another possible safe destination for Russian money. From Istanbul his private Gulfstream G650ER jet – registration LX-Ray – flew to Moscow in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Turkish businessman Muhsin Bayrak claims to have met Abramovich, last week, to discuss buying Chelsea. A spokesperson for Mr Bayrak says another meeting was planned later this week.
Despite the British government freezing £3.2bn of his UK assets, including the west London club, it is thought Abramovich could still play a role in the sale, but only on the basis that he does not personally profit from it.
It is not clear whether Mr Bayrak, who made his money in energy, real estate, and cryptocurrency, has the funds to make the purchase.
What is happening with the Chelsea sale?
The British government is open to a sale and wishes to minimalise impact on the club and its fans, but Chelsea is required to approach the government with a proposal before a new licence is granted. Its primary condition is that Abramovich does not financially benefit from any sale.
Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale on 2 March, pledging to write off £1.5bn of debt and to divert all proceeds to a new foundation to benefit victims of the war in Ukraine.
The government sanctioned him, claiming to have proved his direct links to Mr Putin’s regime. Abramovich has always denied any association.
On Tuesday, a further 370 new sanctions were announced by the UK government – bringing the total to more than 1,000 individuals, entities and subsidiaries now under the Russia sanctions regime since the invasion of Ukraine.
Nigel Huddleston, the minister for sport, told a committee of MPs: “We are working with Chelsea and the fans that the measures we have put in place primarily impact Roman Abramovich and make sure he does not benefit, whilst making sure that where possible we can reduce the impact on the fans and make sure Chelsea can still continue.
“Can the government allow an entity to fail? Yes, it can, whether it’s sport or football or anything else, but what we want to do is make sure the impact of sanctions hits those we want.”
Looking to the future, he told the digital, culture, media and sport select committee: “We do recognise there is a need for further refinement and more robust owners’ and directors’ tests and the integrity element of that is something that is being pushed.”
In other developments:
• More than 100,000 Britons register interest to house Ukrainian refugees
• UK announces sanctions against 350 more Russian nationals and entities
• UK bans luxury goods exports to Russia and hikes import tariffs on products – including vodka
• Briton who travelled to warzone to join military fight against Russia leaves over ‘suicide mission’ fears
• Employee interrupts Russian news programme with anti-war slogan