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Chelsea soccer team’s assets frozen as UK sanctions owner Roman Abramovich

The United Kingdom has hit Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich with economic sanctions, freezing the billionaire’s many assets in the country — which include the Premier League soccer team Chelsea FC. The move by the British government means that Abramovich, who has put Chelsea up for sale, cannot benefit financially from any transaction while he is under sanctions. The sanctions will also have ramifications for Chelsea’s day-to-day operations. The club is effectively not allowed to generate income outside of existing contracts, though it can continue to generate revenue from previously signed agreements. While season ticket holders who have already paid for their subscriptions will be permitted to attend matches, the team is not allowed to sell new tickets for future games. The Chelsea club shop, which sells official club merchandise, will have to close. The team is also restricted from signing new contracts with its existing players. While sanctioned, Chelsea can continue paying staffers and players on its payroll, which is valued at $37 million per month. The announcement has also prompted corporate sponsors of the team, among them the telecom firm Three, to reassess their relationship with the club. The logo of Three will disappear from team jerseys after the telecommunications firm suspended its sponsorship. The unprecedented government measures placed on an English Premier League team mean Chelsea can operate only under a special “Russia Regulations” license through May 31 that allows it to keep playing. The men’s team is at Norwich on Thursday night when the women play at West Ham. Chelsea was put up for sale only last week as calls grew for the owner to be sanctioned for his close links to Putin’s regime, with Abramovich saying the proceeds would go to a foundation started by him for the victims of the war. The sale process is also subject to government approval. “While the current license does not permit the sale of the club at this time, the government is open to a sale of the club and would consider an application for a new license to allow for a sale,” the government said. “Proceeds from any sale could not go to the sanctioned individual while he is subject to sanctions.” The British government bowed to increasing public pressure to sanction Russian businessmen who are thought to have close ties with President Vladimir Putin. Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine two weeks ago that has turned Western public opinion firmly against him, leading the world’s major economic powers to impose crippling sanctions against his economy and those close to him. The UK’s sanctions regime also targets other leading Russian oligarchs including Igor Sechin, Oleg Deripaska, Dmitri Lebedev, Alexei Miller, Andrei Kosin, and Nikolei Tokarev. “There can be no safe havens for those who have supported Putin’s vicious assault on Ukraine,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. The British government said that it included the 55-year-old Abramovich on its blacklist due to his being a “prominent Russian businessman and pro-Kremlin oligarch.” Abramovich has publicly denied maintaining any ties to the Putin government. “Abramovich is associated with a person who is or has been involved in destabilizing Ukraine and undermining and threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, namely Vladimir Putin, with whom Abramovich has had a close relationship for decades,” the UK government said in explaining the decision. Abramovich, whose fortune was made in oil and aluminium during the chaotic years that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, has not condemned Russia’s invasion of its neighbor in two statements since the war began two weeks ago. Abramovich, who is now banned from entering Britain, has not had a British visa since 2018 when he withdraw his renewal application amid a clampdown on rich Russians in the aftermath of the poisonings of Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury. Britain blamed Russia for the pair’s exposure to a nerve agent, an allegation Moscow denied.

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