Chelsea FC is facing new questions over how the club’s ex-owner Roman Abramovich financed the club after leaked files revealed a series of ‘secret payments’ allegedly between the billionaire oligarch and associates of Vladimir Putin.
Abramovich has already faced sanctions from Britain and the EU following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The wealthy 57-year-old has previously denied any financial ties to Russian despot Putin.
Now leaked documents from Cyprus claim to reveal new evidence linking Abramovich to a secret $40m (£26m) deal in 2010, seven years after he bought the London-based Premier League team.
Confidential data shows that one of the men involved in the deal was Sergei Roldugin, a close friend of the Russian president. The second man is the biochemist and businessman Alexander Plekhov, who also belongs to Putin’s inner circle. Both have previously been accused of acting as “wallets” for the Russian leader.
Former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was allegedly linked to a secret deal worth $40 million in 2010 involving two close associates of Vladimir Putin.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin is pictured in October 2023
Alleged evidence was discovered of a series of payments worth tens of millions of pounds over a decade, routed through offshore vehicles allegedly belonging to Abramovich.
The secret deal is said to have seen shares in a lucrative Russian advertising agency Video International transferred – for less than they appeared to be worth – from companies owned by a trust linked to Abramovich to Mr Roldugin and Mr Plekhov. They in turn received millions of dollars in dividends.
The documents were revealed in a joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the BBC and the Guardian newspaper as part of Cyprus Confidential – a global investigation led by reporters from 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 his youth. He is even said to have introduced the Russian leader to his ex-wife, Lyudmila Shkrebneva, and is still the godfather of 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 two were labeled “front men” by Swiss prosecutors, who claimed the duo were not the real owners of assets in bank accounts linked to the Video International deal.
Swiss authorities have not identified anyone as the actual beneficial owner of the accounts, the newspaper reported BBC.
In 2021, Putin’s presidential salary was just over $100,000 (£72,000). However, he is rumored to be one of the richest men in the world, with a vast fortune estimated to be worth around $200 billion, which is reportedly stashed away in shell companies and friends’ accounts.
Musician Sergei Roldugin is a close friend of the Russian president and is said 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 to Vladimir Putin (he is pictured in 2021)
The British government has sanctioned Mr Plekhov. Mr Roldugin has also been sanctioned by Britain, the EU and the US, which described him as a “custodian of President Putin’s offshore wealth”.
News from the alleged dealings between Abramovich and Putin’s friends appear to have benefited Chelsea, raising questions about whether these were mentioned in accounts submitted to football’s governing bodies, the Guardian reported.
Experts claimed the transactions could lead to the Premier League imposing penalties on Chelsea, such as deducting points.
Beneficiaries included star player Eden Hazard’s agent, an associate of title-winning manager Antonio Conte and Chelsea FC officials. Other payments appear to be linked to the purchase of former Blues players Willian and Samuel Eto’o.
Abramovich sold Chelsea to Todd Boehly last year for a fee of £4.2 billion after the government imposed sanctions on the former owner in March following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
However, the Premier League has investigated the transactions under the club’s former ownership and those involving the arrivals of Willian and Eto at Stamford Bridge are now being investigated.
Chelsea’s current owners, led by Boehly, reportedly flagged the transfers as they were in the process of buying the club from Abramovich.
Abramovich’s wealth is estimated at more than $9 billion. The oligarch has made a slew of public investments in sports, the arts and luxury properties. But his purchase of the Blues in 2003 made him one of the most famous Russian billionaires in the world.
Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003. The photo shows the club’s London stadium
He has previously played down his ties to Putin and questioned suggestions that he had any kind of close financial relationship or had acted on behalf of the Russian prime minister.
In 2010, a spokesperson for Abramovich called the billionaire linked to Putin “absurd” before insisting that the former Chelsea owner had “no financial relationship of any kind with (then) Prime Minister Putin.”
Speaking to the Guardian in 2010The Russian billionaire’s representative, Max Clifford, added: ‘Anyone who is rich and successful and comes from Russia is seen as closely linked to Putin and his finances. But like many of these stories, there is no truth and no substance in them.’
In 2021, Abramovich sued journalist Catherine Belton over a passage in her book, Putin’s People, citing evidence alleging that he purchased Chelsea in 2003 at the behest of President Putin.
The case was settled out of court with an agreement from the publisher “to more accurately record the position” and add “a more detailed explanation of Mr. Abramovich’s motivations.”
Abramovich has made no statement about the alleged secret meeting that came to light as part of Cyprus Confidential.
MailOnline has contacted Chelsea FC and Abramovich for comment.