Why has Roman Abramovich been sanctioned? Is he an Oligarch? What Chelsea owner has said about Vladimir Putin

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has been sanctioned by the UK Government following Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned by the UK Government on Thursday, along with six other high-profile Russian figures.

The billionaire has had his British assets frozen as Downing Street continues to respond to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

As part of the restrictions Abramovich is now facing, Chelsea can no longer sell match day tickets or merchandise, while the club have been placed under an effective transfer embargo.

Abramovich’s planned sale of the club, which he announced last week, also looks to have been thrown into considerable doubt.

Why has Roman Abramovich been sanctioned?

Abramovich has been sanctioned because the UK Government has established enough proof to suggest that the billionaire is a known associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “You’ve got to have clear evidence that people are connected to the Putin regime. That has been established. That’s why we’re going ahead with the sanctions.

“I can’t comment on what individuals are doing, but we’ve concluded that there is enough of a connection between the Putin regime and the individuals in question to justify the action.”

Connections between Abramovich and Putin have been speculated on for some time.

In 2012, a high court judge stated that the Chelsea owner had “privileged access” to the leader, as well as “very good relations”.

Chris Hutchins, a biographer of Putin and former national journalist, described the relationship between the Russian president and Abramovich as that of a father and a favourite son.

Is Abramovich an oligarch?

By definition, an oligarch is a very rich business leader with a great deal of political influence.

In that respect, it’s hard to deny that Abramovich fits the description.

As well as being the 131st richest billionaire in the world, according to Forbes, the 55-year-old has been involved in Russian politics for some time.

In 1999, Abramovich was elected to the State Duma as the representative for the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, an impoverished region in the Russian Far East. From 2000 to 2008, he acted as governor of Chukotka, investing vast sums of money into the region.

Beyond his overt career, it has also been claimed that Abramovich has often cut an influential figure behind the scenes of the Russian political landscape.

In his 2011 book, The Crisis of Russian Democracy: The Dual State, Factionalism and the Medvedev Succession, Richard Sakwa suggested that Abramovich was one of the earliest advocates for Putin to succeed former President Boris Yeltsin, as well as claiming that the Chelsea owner would remain one of the 69-year-old’s closest confidants.

As recently as December of last year, the Washington Examiner published a piece in which they reported that the US intelligence community believes Abramovich is a “bag carrier”, or a financial middleman, for Putin.

What has Abramovich said about Putin?

While direct quotes from Abramovich himself on Putin are hard to come by, legal representatives for the billionaire have denied suggestions that he is a “willing tool” of the Russian President’s administration.

Responding to a claim made in Catherine Belton’s 2020 book, Putin’s People, Abramovich’s lawyer told a court last summer that any suggestion the leader had instructed the oligarch to buy Chelsea in 2003 was false.

Barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC, acting for Abramovich, said: “The claimant is described in the book as Putin’s ‘cashier’ and as a custodian of Kremlin slush funds... It is perfectly clear that is a straight allegation that he’s receiving money, paying out money on behalf of the person who’s described as a corrupt president.”

He went on to refute inferences that the Chelsea owner was deliberately positioned as the “acceptable face of a corrupt and dangerous regime”, as well as challenging the level of influence that his client believes Belton’s text implied Putin had on his actions.

Tomlinson added: “All the way through [Abramovich is] a willing tool of the regime and more or less [the narrative goes]... 

“Putin says ‘buy a football club so I can infiltrate the UK’ and he does it, Putin says ‘move to New York so I can make friends with the [US] establishment’ and he does it.”

In response to Abramovich’s lawsuit, publisher HarperCollins removed the claims from Belton’s text.

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