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Russian Roman Abramovich Has Decided to Sell Chelsea Football Club

Roman Abramovich
Roman Abramovich

Russian businessman Roman Abramovich said on Wednesday he had decided to sell Chelsea Football Club, 19 years after buying the London side, and promised to donate money from the sale to help victims of the war in Ukraine.

"I have always taken decisions with the club's best interest at heart," Abramovich said in statement published by the reigning European and world soccer champions on their website.

"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."

Abramovich said he would not ask for loans he has made to the club - reported to total 1.5 billion pounds ($2.0 billion) - to be repaid to him and the sale would not be fast-tracked.

He said he had told his aides to set up a charitable foundation which would receive all net proceeds from the sale.

"The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine," Abramovich said in the statement.

"This includes providing critical funds towards the urgent and immediate needs of victims, as well as supporting the long-term work of recovery."

Earlier in the day, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declined to comment on whether Britain would impose sanctions on Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, but said the "vice" was tightening on those around Russian President Vladimir Putin.

There have been growing calls in Britain for Abramovich to be included in economic measures taken against Russians who are said to be close to Putin following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"He's a person of interest to the Home Office (interior ministry) because of his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activity and practices," opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said in parliament.

"Last week, the prime minister said that Abramovich is facing sanctions. He later corrected the record to say that he isn't. Well, why on earth isn't he?"

In response, Johnson said he could not go into details on specific cases.

"It's not appropriate for me to comment on individual cases at this stage," Johnson said. "But be in no doubt that the actions that we've already taken ... are having an effect in Moscow by exposing the ownership of properties of companies in the way that we are."

He added: "They will have heard what the president of the United States had to say last night. The vice is tightening on the Putin regime, and it will continue to tighten."

Abramovich, 55, who has Israeli citizenship, was one of the most powerful businessmen who earned fabulous fortunes after the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. Forbes has put his net worth at $13.3 billion.

His spokeswoman said on Monday that Abramovich had accepted a Ukrainian request to help negotiate an end to Russia's invasion, which Moscow calls a "special operation," although it was unclear what role he would have.

British lawmaker Chris Bryant has told parliament Abramovich was "terrified" of being sanctioned, and was moving to sell his assets, accusing the government of being too slow to act.