Chelsea FC faces fresh questions after leaked files ‘reveal secret payments’ between ex-owner Roman Abramovich and Putin’s regime
Chelsea FC is facing fresh questions over how the club’s ex-owner Roman Abramovich funded it after leaked files revealed a string of ‘secret payments’ allegedly between the billionaire oligarch and associates of Vladimir Putin.
Abramovich has already been sanctioned by the UK and EU following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The wealthy 57-year-old has previously denied any financial ties with Russian despot, Putin.
Now, leaked documents from Cyprus have claimed to reveal new evidence linking Abramovich to a secret $40million (£26million) deal in 2010, seven years after he bought the London-based Premier League side.
Confidential records reveal one of the men involved in the deal was Sergei Roldugin, a close friend of the Russian president. The second man is biochemist-turned-businessman Alexander Plekhov, who is also in Putin’s inner circle. Both have previously been accused of acting as ‘wallets’ for the Russian leader.
Former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has allegedly been linked to a secret $40million (£26million) deal in 2010 involving two of Vladimir Putin’s close associates
Russian leader Vladimir Putin is pictured in October 2023
Uncovered was alleged evidence of a series of payments worth tens of millions of pounds over a decade, routed through offshore vehicles reportedly belonging to Abramovich.
The secret deal reportedly saw shares in a lucrative Russian advertising firm Video International being transferred – for less than they appeared to be worth – from companies owned by a trust connected with Abramovich, to Mr Roldugin and Mr Plekhov. They in turn netted millions of dollars in dividends.
The documents were exposed by in a joint probe by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the BBC and Guardian newspaper as part of Cyprus Confidential – a global investigation led by reporters at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Paper Trail Media.
Mr Roldugin is the artistic director of the St Petersburg Music House and has known Putin since they were young. He is even reported to have introduced the Russian leader to his former wife, Lyudmila Shkrebneva, and remains the godfather to their first daughter, Maria.
Both Mr Roldugin and Mr Plekhov have both been accused of being ‘wallets’ for President Putin – secretly holding money and assets on his behalf.
Earlier this year, the pair were branded ‘straw men’ by Swiss prosecutors who alleged the duo were not the real owners of assets in banks accounts linked with the Video International deal.
Swiss authorities did not identify anyone as the true beneficial owner of the accounts, reported the BBC.
In 2021, Putin’s presidential salary was reported just over $100,000 (£72,000). However, he is rumoured to be one of the richest men in the world, sitting on a vast fortune estimated to be worth up to $200billion (£164billion), which is allegedly stashed away in shell companies and in the accounts of friends.
Musician Sergei Roldugin is a close friend of the Russian president and is alleged to have been involved in the ‘secret deal’ (Roldugin is pictured in 2018)
Roldugin is the artistic director of the St Petersburg Music House and has known Putin since they were young (Roldugin and Putin are pictured together in 2016)
Abramovich has previously denied having any financial ties with Vladimir Putin (he is pictured in 2021)
The UK Government sanctioned Mr Plekhov. Mr Roldugin has also been sanctioned by the UK, the EU and the US, which described him as a ‘custodian of President Putin’s offshore wealth’.
News of the alleged transactions between Abramovich and Putin’s pals appear to have been for Chelsea’s benefit, raising questions about whether they were declared in accounts submitted to football’s governing bodies, the Guardian reported.
Experts claimed the transactions could lead to the Premier League imposing punishments on Chelsea, such as the deduction of points.
Among the beneficiaries appeared to include the agent of the star player Eden Hazard, an associate of the title-winning manager Antonio Conte and Chelsea FC officials. Other payments appear to have been connected to the purchase of the former Blues players Willian and Samuel Eto’o.
Abramovich sold Chelsea to Todd Boehly last year in a £4.2billion deal after the government sanctioned the former owner in March following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
However, the Premier League has been looking into dealings under the club’s former ownership and the transactions regarding Willian and Eto’s arrivals at Stamford Bridge are now being looked into.
Chelsea’s current owners led by Boehly, reportedly flagged the transfers while they were in the process of purchasing the club from Abramovich.
Abramovich’s wealth is estimated to total more than $9billion (£7.3billion). The oligarch has made a slew of public investments in sports, arts and luxury properties. But his 2003 purchase of the Blues led to him becoming one of the best-known Russian billionaires in the world.
Abramovich purchased Chelsea back in 2003. Pictured is the club’s London stadium
He has previously downplayed his ties with Putin and challenged suggestions he had any sort of close financial relationship or has acted on the behalf of the Russian premier.
In 2010, a spokesperson for Abramovich branded claims the billionaire was linked to Putin ‘absurd’ before insisting the former Chelsea owner had ‘no financial relationship of any kind with [then] Prime Minister Putin’.
Speaking to the Guardian in 2010, the Russian billionaire’s representative, Max Clifford, added: ‘Anybody who is rich and successful who comes out of Russia is seen to be closely tied up with Putin and his finances. But like many of these stories, there is no truth and no substance in it.’
In 2021 Abramovich sued journalist Catherine Belton over a passage in her book, Putin’s People, referring to evidence alleging he had purchased Chelsea in 2003 at President Putin’s behest.
The case was settled out of court with an agreement by the publisher ‘to record the position more accurately’ and add ‘a more detailed explanation of Mr Abramovich’s motivations’.
Abramovich has not made a statement regarding the alleged secret meeting uncovered as part of Cyprus Confidential.
MailOnline has approached Chelsea FC and Abramovich for comment.
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