Britain Freezes Assets of Roman Abramovich, Blocking Chelsea Sale

A proposed sale of Chelsea F.C., one of Europe’s leading soccer teams, was effectively blocked by the British government on Thursday when it froze the assets of the club’s Russian oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich, as part of a wider set of sanctions announced against a group of wealthy Russian businessmen.

The government, in announcing its actions against Abramovich and six other Russian oligarchs, said it had taken steps to ensure Chelsea would be able to continue its operations and complete its schedule, including a Premier League match at Norwich City on Thursday night. To protect the club’s interests, the government said, it issued the team a license to continue its soccer-related activities.

The license, which the government said would be under “constant review,” will ensure that the team’s players and staff will continue to be paid; that fans holding season tickets can continue to attend games; and that the integrity of the Premier League, which is considered an important cultural asset and one of Britain’s most high-profile exports, will not be affected.

But to ensure that no money flows to Abramovich, the club will no longer be able to sell new tickets to any games or sell merchandise online or in its stores.

That ban also could make it impossible for Abramovich to follow through on his previously announced plans to sell Chelsea. Under the new sanctions, the British government will now have complete oversight of that process. The effect would be to heavily diminish any proposed sale price, but it could block a sale entirely since it is unlikely the government would allow such a large transfer of money — Abramovich was said to be seeking more than $2 billion for Chelsea — from being paid to an owner under sanctions.

“Given the significant impact that today’s sanctions would have on Chelsea football club and the potential knock on effects of this, the Government has this morning published a license which authorizes a number of football-related activities to continue at Chelsea,” the British government said in its statement announcing the freezing of Abramovich’s assets. “This includes permissions for the club to continue playing matches and other football related activity which will in turn protect the Premier League, the wider football pyramid, loyal fans and other clubs. This license will only allow certain explicitly named actions to ensure the designated individual is not able to circumvent U.K. sanctions.”

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