Chelsea FC banned from selling tickets, merchandise or signing new players in U.K. crackdown on Russian owner

March 10, 2022, 10:14 AM UTC
Updated March 10, 2022, 10:58 AM UTC

The U.K. froze the assets of Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, as Boris Johnson’s government dramatically stepped up its sanctions against prominent Russians over the invasion of Ukraine.

Abramovich and six others face a full asset freeze and travel ban, and are prohibited from transacting with U.K. citizens or businesses, the Foreign Office said in a statement Thursday. The move effectively derails Abramovich’s plan to sell Chelsea, which plays in England’s highest soccer league, and raises major questions about the future of the club.

Chelsea won’t be able to sell new tickets for matches, including games in the European Champions League, and the club’s merchandise stores will be closed. Player transfers are banned, as are new contracts.

Johnson has faced intense pressure to accelerate sanctions against Russians the government regards as having close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In its statement, the Foreign Office said the U.K. is the first nation to sanction Abramovich.

“There can be no safe havens for those who have supported Putin’s vicious assault on Ukraine,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. “We will be ruthless in pursuing those who enable the killing of civilians, destruction of hospitals and illegal occupation of sovereign allies.”

The other sanctioned Russians include Igor Sechin, the chief executive of oil giant Rosneft, and Alexei Miller, chief executive of Gazprom. Oleg Deripaska, who has stakes in En+ Group, also had his assets frozen. The measures are worth an estimated 15 billion pounds ($20 billion), according to the U.K.

But Abramovich, who is Russia’s eighth-richest man according to Bloomberg data, is the most famous in the U.K. due to his longstanding ownership of Chelsea. The Labour Party has consistently called for him to be sanctioned.

The Chelsea owner had put the Premier League club up for sale in anticipation of action against him. Though the government issued a license for football operations to continue, the implications of the sanctions will still be profound.

Chelsea lost 166 million pounds last season and often needs cash from Abramovich, who has lent at least 1.5 billion pounds to the club over 10 years.

This week the U.K. Parliament voted to strengthen government powers and speed up sanctions against Russian tycoons, though the legislation has not yet been passed into law.

Also sanctioned on Thursday are:

  • VTB Bank Chairman Andrey Kostin
  • Nikolai Tokarev, president of state-owned pipeline company Transneft
  • Bank Rossiya Chairman Dmitri Lebedev

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