The £4.25bn sale of Chelsea Football Club by the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who is under sanctions, has been signed off by the British government, securing the club’s survival under new American ownership.
Nadine Dorries, UK culture secretary, wrote on Twitter on Monday that the government had issued a licence permitting the sale of the club, which she said would help to secure “the long-term future” of the west London side.
“We are satisfied the proceeds of the sale will not benefit Roman Abramovich or other sanctioned individuals,” Dorries tweeted.
“I want to thank everyone, especially officials who’ve worked tirelessly to keep the club playing and enable this sale, protecting fans and the wider football community.”
Funds from the sale are expected to go into a frozen account: ministers insisted on guarantees that they could never be used for the benefit of Abramovich or his associates.
On Tuesday night, the Premier League approved the takeover by a consortium spearheaded by US financier Todd Boehly, saying it satisfied its “owners and directors test”.
A government spokesman said: “The steps today will secure the future of this important cultural asset and protect fans and the wider football community.
“We have been in discussions with relevant international partners for necessary licences required and we thank them for all their co-operation.”
Dorries is confident the required approval from the government in Portugal — Abramovich holds a Portuguese passport — will be forthcoming and the deal will go ahead, her allies said. The European Commission has been helping Lisbon assess the deal. The main issue in London was the insistence by UK ministers that neither Abramovich nor people connected to him would benefit from proceeds of the sale.
Abramovich’s advisers and the government have been locked in talks for weeks over how to handle the proceeds and the £1.5bn debt owed by Chelsea to an offshore vehicle connected to the oligarch. The deal signals an end to Abramovich’s two decade-long stint bankrolling a club that he transformed into world-beaters. In his time Chelsea has won five Premier League titles and two Uefa Champions League trophies.
Boehly, who owns stakes in the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team and LA Dodgers baseball side, is leading a takeover backed by California-based investment firm Clearlake Capital, Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss and Guggenheim Partners chief executive Mark Walter.
Following completion, American investors would control four of the so-called Big Six clubs in the Premier League, the richest domestic competition in Europe.
Arsenal is owned by Stan Kroenke, the Glazer family controls Manchester United, and John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group owns Liverpool. Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale just days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Portugal was nervous of approving the sale without the blessing of Brussels, which has drawn up sanctions and offers guidance on how they should be implemented.
Agreement was likely, one Brussels official said, since the money would go to charity rather than benefit Abramovich directly. But they were clear the final decision to approve a sale rested with London.
Portugal’s foreign minister, João Gomes Cravinho, speaking in the Cape Verde Islands, where he is making an official visit, said: “In relation to Chelsea, of course, there is an absolutely fundamental point here: Portugal applies the sanctions that were decreed by the European Union.
“We do it rigorously, we do it without exceptions and that is how we will continue to apply them.”
Additional reporting by Robert Wright.