UK government approves sanctioned Abramovich sale of Chelsea

LONDON (AP) — Roman Abramovich’s 19 years as owner of Chelsea is about to end after the British government approved the sale of the Premier League club by the sanctioned Russian oligarch to a consortium led by the Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly.

The government needed to ensure that Abramovich, who has been sanctioned for his links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, does not profit from the forced sale of the club which his investment has turned into one of the most successful in European football.

The reigning FIFA Club World Cup winners and 2021 European champions will be sold for 2.5 billion pounds ($3.1 billion) – the highest price ever for a sports team – once Premier League approval has been granted.

Chelsea have been operating under a government license since Abramovich’s assets were frozen in March and it expires on May 31.

“After extensive work, we are now satisfied that all proceeds from the sale will not benefit Roman Abramovich or anyone else sanctioned,” the UK government said in a statement released on Wednesday. “We will now begin the process to ensure that the proceeds from the sale are used for humanitarian causes in Ukraine, supporting war victims.

“Today’s measures will secure the future of this important cultural asset and protect fans and the wider football community.”

It was a hotly contested sale process after Russia invaded Ukraine three months ago and the Boehly Group was to guarantee 1.75 billion pounds ($2.2 billion) of investment in the team to be chosen as new owners.

Chelsea had already agreed a deal earlier this month with the consortium which includes Boehly with Dodgers principal owner Mark Walter, Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss and funding from private equity firm Clearlake Capital.

Chelsea fans have grown accustomed to lavish funding over the 19 years under Abramovich’s ownership, with over $1 billion in net player spend helping the men’s team win 21 trophies.

Abramovich, who did not condemn the war, said he would write off loans of more than 1.5 billion pounds ($1.9 billion) to Chelsea, but that was complicated by the sanctions put in place by the British government.

Chelsea’s ability to sell match tickets and meet new player spending has been hampered by the sanctions.

The certainty is that Chelsea will play the Champions League next season after finishing third in the Premier League last Sunday despite the turmoil off the pitch. The women’s team won a league and cup double with a team funded by Abramovich’s investment.

Chelsea had only won the men’s league once – in 1955 – when Abramovich bought the club in 2003. Aided by expensive signings, the club won the Premier League two years later and added four more since then, most recently in 2017.

Investment is needed at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have the smallest and most dated stadium of the Premier League’s most successful clubs, with plans to rebuild the 41,000-seater site put on hold by Abramovich in 2018 when Anglo-Russian diplomatic tensions deepened .

Chelsea’s $3.1 billion cost dwarfs the $2.3 billion paid in 2018 for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.

In addition to co-ownership of the MLB Dodgers, Boehly also owns minority stakes in the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.

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