The government is concerned that the £4.25bn takeover of Chelsea could collapse because of the alleged refusal by Roman Abramovich to accept a new sale structure proposed by ministers.
With the deadline for the deal to be completed less than a fortnight away Whitehall insiders have said there are fears of Chelsea going out of business. The government is determined that none of the proceeds from the club being sold to Todd Boehly’s consortium go to Abramovich, who put the European champions up for sale when he was hit with sanctions after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Chelsea, whose special operating licence expires on 31 May, require government approval before the deal goes through. But talks over what will happen to Abramovich’s £1.6bn loan to the club have stalled, heightening concerns over the deadline for the sale being missed.
The government’s proposal is for a two-stage process in which the £2.5bn from the sale to Boehly’s group would go into an escrow account, where it would be held until it is satisfied the funds will go to a charity for victims of the war in Ukraine.
But Westminster sources have said the deal has been held up by the club’s ownership structure. Chelsea’s parent company, Fordstam Ltd, owes £1.6bn to Camberley International Investments, a Jersey-based company with suspected links to Abramovich. The government has claimed that Abramovich and Chelsea want the loan repaid and then frozen before it goes to a charitable foundation.
The government is insistent that would break the terms of the sanctions imposed on Abramovich. Whitehall insiders also say they are yet to see legal assurances that the money will not eventually end up going to the Russian oligarch and need guarantees the funds will reach good causes. Chelsea and a spokesperson for Abramovich have been approached for comment.
Abramovich’s camp have previously denied claims that the billionaire could hold up the deal by reneging on his promise to write off his loan to Chelsea. Abramovich has insisted the charitable foundation will be an independent organisation and will be run by the former head of a United Nations organisation with no previous connection to him.
Chelsea have been represented in talks with the government by the club’s chairman, Bruce Buck, and the powerful director Marina Granovskaia. Buck and Granovskaia, both of whom have long-term ties to Abramovich, are expected to be retained by Boehly’s group.