Abramovich’s Secret Football Payments May Have Breached Financial Fair Play Rules

Former Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich’s offshore companies made backchannel payments worth tens of millions of dollars to football agents, clubs, scouts and directors, leaked documents reveal.

Key Findings

  • The payments for football-related business did not go through Chelsea’s books and may have violated UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules limiting club spending. Experts say this could have given Chelsea an unfair advantage over its rivals.
  • A sports lawyer and a football scout paid by Abramovich’s offshore companies both confirmed the fees were for work related to Chelsea. “I would have expected the payment to be processed through the accounts of Chelsea,” one said.
  • A British Virgin Islands firm owned by Abramovich also secretly bankrolled a legal challenge against Financial Fair Play.
  • Abramovich’s offshore firms loaned tens of millions of dollars to a company ultimately owned by Vadim Giner, the son of CSKA Moscow president Evgeny Giner. CSKA Moscow was a rival football team that played in the same UEFA competition as Chelsea, raising questions over Abramovich’s influence over the team’s owners and a possible conflict of interest.

The news came through just as Chelsea FC’s league-winning football team set off for a pre-season tour of China and Singapore in July 2017: Antonio Conte, the club’s manager, had signed a new two-year contract that ended weeks of speculation over his future.

Fans were jubilant. “Best manager in the world and beyond,” wrote one in reply to Chelsea’s announcement of the news on social media.

The coaching deal was believed to be the most lucrative in Chelsea’s history. The Italian Conte, whose flamboyant pitchside celebrations won the hearts of the club’s supporters, would earn a reported 9.6 million British pounds (around $12.5 million) per year, cementing his place among the world’s best-paid managers.

But Roman Abramovich, Chelsea’s billionaire Russian owner, wasn’t only inking a deal with Conte that day.

On the same Tuesday in the summer of 2017, a British Virgin Islands company owned by Abramovich agreed to pay 10 million pounds (around $13 million) to Federico Pastorello, an Italian football agent who told British newspaper The Telegraph that he was “very involved when [Conte] was manager at Chelsea.”

Unlike Conte’s very public contract signing, this deal happened behind a veil of offshore secrecy and has never before been revealed.

Abramovich agreed to pay Pastorello to acquire a majority interest in an obscure company he owned in the U.S. state of Delaware called Excellence Investment Fund – EIF, LLC. The firm had no public profile, and it’s unclear what assets it owned that justified its multi-million-pound price tag.

The Abramovich company that made the purchase, Conibair Holdings Limited, had no formal connection to Chelsea. Its only known business activity was that it had served as a holding company for Abramovich’s private jet.

Asked whether the payment was related to Conte signing a new deal, Pastorello declined to comment, but said: “Conte is not our client.” Pastorello told The Telegraph in 2021 he was not Conte’s agent, but admitted helping him in 2017 with a prospective player transfer that fell through. Conte did not respond to requests for comment. (There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Conte.)

Federico Pastorello, Francesco Acerbi and Stefan de Vrij
Credit: Kines Milano/Alamy Federico Pastorello stands between Francesco Acerbi (left) Stefan de Vrij at the Coppa Italia in Rome, May 24 2023.

The agreement is one of more than a dozen football-related deals seen by OCCRP that involve payments made by Abramovich’s offshore firms.

The files come from Cypriot corporate service provider MeritServus. The leaked documents were obtained by the whistleblower group Distributed Denial of Secrets and initially shared with OCCRP and the Guardian. This investigation is part of Cyprus Confidential, a global investigative collaboration led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Paper Trail Media.

Other multi-million-euro deals tie the former Chelsea owner to John Bico, the onetime agent of Chelsea and Belgium star player Eden Hazard, and Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, at the time the owner of Russian club Anji Makhachkala, which transferred star players Samuel Eto’o and Willian to Chelsea.

The findings raise questions over how Abramovich bankrolled Chelsea’s on-field success. Experts say the transactions may have breached Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, which the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) introduced in 2011 to curb club spending and protect integrity and financial sustainability in European football.

By channeling payments through his own companies, Abramovich may have artificially reduced costs that should have counted towards Chelsea’s spending limits under FFP rules — effectively enabling the club to spend more than it was allowed to, and giving it an unfair advantage over its rivals.

“If a club were to hide outgoings like wages or amortization of transfers by paying those sums through other entities, it is conceivable that they could be in breach of the FFP rules,” Samuel Cuthbert, a sports law barrister with London-based Outer Temple Chambers, told OCCRP after reviewing the leaked files. “You would effectively be circumventing your regulatory requirements, which limit your ability to spend, and spending instead through an offshore company.”

Two people who received payments from Abramovich’s offshore firms confirmed the money was for Chelsea-related activities.

Frank Arnesen, Chelsea’s former sporting director, received 250,000 British pounds (around $387,000) for “football consultancy services” under the terms of an agreement, found in the leak, with Abramovich’s Ovington Worldwide Limited. Asked about the deal, Arnesen told reporters, “I would have expected the payment to be processed through the accounts of Chelsea, but received it through another entity. I understood this as such that the third party and Chelsea had agreed upon this.”

Separately, a lawyer who brought a legal challenge against FFP said that part of his fees were paid by an Abramovich firm in the British Virgin Islands The Abramovich companies in the British Virgin Islands named in this article were active up to at least August 2022, according to the Caribbean nation’s official gazette. on behalf of Chelsea.

FFP rules aim to ensure club spending remains in line with earnings, limiting the extent to which a super-wealthy benefactor like Abramovich can bankroll a team. But the rules posed a threat to Abramovich’s ambitions for Chelsea. When he first acquired the club in the 2000s, the billionaire oligarch splurged hundreds of millions of pounds on players, bringing Chelsea long-sought success. Even after FFP rules were introduced, Chelsea continued to make splashy signings. Under Abramovich, the team won five Premier League titles and two UEFA Champions League trophies.

Penalties for violating FFP rules can include fines, points deductions, exclusion from competitions, caps on player salaries, and withdrawal of awards.

Kieran Maguire, author of the book The Price of Football, said making payments through Abramovich’s companies would have been useful to Chelsea because the club’s huge spending meant it had come close to breaching financial loss limits.

"If there is proof that the club has used third party transactions to circumvent the profitability and sustainability rules, then sanctions would be either financial or a points deduction."
– Kieran Maguire, author, The Price of Football

“If there is proof that the club has used third party transactions to circumvent the profitability and sustainability rules then sanctions would be either financial or a points deduction,” he told the Guardian, OCCRP’s partner.

Cuthbert, the sports law barrister, said that skirting FFP rules could give a club an unfair advantage over its rivals. “FFP rules are there to facilitate sustainability, to prevent what is often referred to in these circles as financial doping. Non-adherence with spending caps may make a non-complying club more competitive in transfer markets.”

The files also reveal how Abramovich’s firms loaned tens of millions of dollars to a company ultimately owned by the son of the president of Russian club CSKA Moscow. This company provided millions of dollars to the Russian team, which competed against Chelsea in the Champions League at the time.

Abramovich did not respond to emailed questions about the leaked agreements.

Chelsea, which changed ownership last year, said, “These allegations pre-date the Club’s current ownership … and do not relate to any individual who is presently at the Club.”

It added: “During a thorough due diligence process prior to completion of the purchase, the ownership group became aware of potentially incomplete financial reporting concerning historical transactions during the Club’s previous ownership … the Club proactively self-reported these matters to all applicable football regulators.”

UEFA fined Chelsea 10 million euros ($11 million) in July for breaking FFP rules under Abramovich’s ownership, but said it could not comment on specific transactions. The club is also being investigated by the English Premier League over potential FFP violations. The Football Association, English football’s governing body, said: “We are investigating.” It’s not clear which deals the fine and investigations relate to.

Jens Sejer Andersen, international director of Play the Game, an initiative run by the Danish Institute for Sports Studies that aims to improve ethical standards and promote good governance in sport, said FFP rules have not proven effective.

“It does have some impact, but it is also too easy to circumvent. This is to the detriment of football mainly because it destroys a competitive balance and undermines confidence in the credibility of the governing bodies.”

🔗About the ‘Cyprus Confidential’ Project

Cyprus Confidential is a global investigation examining Russian influence in Cyprus, and how local service providers helped oligarchs and billionaires structure their wealth over the years preceding the 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The project is based on more than 3.6 million documents leaked from six different Cypriot service providers, as well as a Latvian firm.

The Cypriot firms are DJC Accountants, ConnectedSky, Cypcodirect, MeritServus, MeritKapital, and Kallias and Associates. Additional records came from a Latvian company, Dataset SIA, which sells Cypriot corporate registry documents through a website called i-Cyprus.

The MeritServus and MeritKapital records were shared with OCCRP, ICIJ and other media outlets by Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoS). OCCRP has previously reported on these firms, and the current project builds upon this work. ICIJ also shared the leaked records from Cypcodirect, ConnectedSky, i-Cyprus, and Kallias and Associates that were obtained by Paper Trail Media. In the case of Kallias and Associates, the documents were obtained from DDoS who shared them with Paper Trail Media and ICIJ. OCCRP shared the DJC Accountants leaked records with media partners after previously obtaining them via DDoS.

Fighting ‘Fair Play’ From Behind the Scenes

When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, it seemed money was no object. He spent tens of millions of pounds snapping up top players from around the world. The investment paid off: Two years later, the team lifted its first-ever Premier League trophy.

The unprecedented spending ushered in a new era of big money in European football.

Fellow English team Manchester City, without a major trophy since 1976, went on to win seven Premier League titles after the Emirati Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s Abu Dhabi United Group acquired the club in 2008 and bought several of the world’s best players. In France, Qatar Sports Investment, owned by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, bought Paris Saint Germain, which then won nine of the next 11 Ligue 1 titles thanks to top players like Neymar and Kylian Mbappé.

But critics objected to owners’ personal wealth playing an outsize role in determining on-field success, complaining that it undermined competitive integrity. Arsène Wenger, the former manager of the football club Arsenal, a major rival of Chelsea, called it “financial doping.” Calls for regulation culminated in the adoption of UEFA’s FFP rules, which limited spending to a percentage of a club’s revenues.

Didier Drogba
Credit: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea enabled the club to spend tens of millions of pounds on top players like Didier Drogba, pictured here playing for Chelsea in 2010.

Those rules undermined Abramovich’s business model at Chelsea, prompting the billionaire to act.

The leaked MeritServus files show that on February 17, 2014, his British Virgin Islands company Leiston Holdings Limited agreed to cover 100,000 pounds (around $168,000) of legal fees incurred by JLD Activities Sarl, a Luxembourg company owned by the sports lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, famous for securing the 1995 “Bosman Ruling” at the EU’s Court of Justice which granted EU-based players greater contractual freedom to transfer to other clubs.

This time, Dupont was spearheading a legal challenge against FFP at the European Commission and a court in Belgium initially brought by the football agent Daniel Striani. Dupont said he and his clients believed FFP was “wrong” and anti-competitive. Reports at the time linked Dupont’s legal work with fan groups from clubs like Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain — both of which have been criticized for extravagant spending — but not Chelsea.

Yet Abramovich’s Leiston Holdings had a “business interest” in the outcome of the proceedings, according to an agreement in the leaked files. The contract required Dupont to provide monthly updates on the legal challenge and consult with Leiston Holdings on “any major strategy decision relating to the Proceedings.”

But Dupont didn’t manage to overturn the rules: the following year, the EU’s Court of Justice rejected a request by Brussels’ Court of First Instance for a ruling.

Striani, Dupont’s client who first brought the legal challenge, told reporters he was unaware of the agreement between Dupont’s firm and Abramovich’s Leiston Holdings. “I paid Dupont’s fees myself, and I would not have accepted a club or anyone else to pay them on my behalf.”

Dupont confirmed to reporters that Chelsea had supported the lawsuit, saying that the club had wanted to fight “what it considered to be a serious illegality under European Union law.” However, it did not want to be publicly associated with the lawsuit, and feared retaliation from UEFA if its opposition was known.

“I suppose it was out of an abundance of caution (towards UEFA, which has access to club accounts…) that Chelsea felt it appropriate that the payment should not be made directly by the club,” Dupont said in a written response to reporters’ questions.

He added that providing “discreet” support to a lawsuit was legal in European courts and that he had not been aware that Abramovich was the owner of Leiston Holdings.

Boardroom Payments

One of the most influential people at Chelsea during the Abramovich era was Russian-Canadian board member Marina Granovskaia. As a director, Granovskaia was involved in many aspects of Chelsea’s on- and off-field success, including player transfers and contract negotiations. She reportedly took on additional responsibilities after CEO Ron Gourlay resigned from the position in October 2014.

Marina Granovskaia
Credit: Andy Rowland/Alamy Marina Granovskaia at a March 2020 match between Chelsea and Liverpool in London.

Two weeks after his resignation, British Virgin Islands-registered Ovington Worldwide agreed to grant three loans to Granovskaia worth a combined 12.5 million pounds ($20 million), documents in the leak reveal. According to credit agreements, the loans were to finance the purchase of property and, in one case, “for any purpose.”

At least 7.5 million pounds ($10.94 million) of this debt was due to be waived under subsequent debt forgiveness deeds. Copies of the deeds in the leak were signed by Abramovich’s company, but not by Granovskaia. If countersigned, the agreements would mean Granovskaia effectively received millions of pounds for free.

On top of the loans, between 2010 and 2019 Ovington Worldwide agreed to pay her at least 1.63 million pounds (around $2.36 millIon) under an advisory services agreement for “financial, tax and legal due diligence.”

Granovskaia has a low public profile and reporters were unable to obtain her personal contact details or those of a representative. Questions about the agreements were sent to a U.K.-based company owned and directed by Granovskaia, but no response was received. Reporters also asked Chelsea to forward questions to Granovskaia. Asked whether the agreements were a form of remuneration for her work at Chelsea, the club declined to comment.

Neill Wood, a visiting fellow in Sport and Football Finance at Loughborough University, said any undeclared payments for services related to Chelsea, including executive pay, would violate FFP rules.

“If he or she was solely a director at the football club and has no other job, and is receiving payments that were effectively off the books … that would be a breach.”

Agents, Scouts and Academies

In the 2010s, Abramovich’s firms signed several deals with player agents or scouts who were involved in the transfers of major players to Chelsea over the years. Reporters found no evidence to suggest the payments were related to specific player transfers.

The beneficiaries include French agent John Bico-Penaque, best known for representing Belgium forward Eden Hazard when he moved to Chelsea in June 2012. Hazard became one of the superstars of the Abramovich era, going on to win two English Premier League championships and score the goal to win the English FA Cup.

Roman Abramovich with this players
Credit: Rebecca Naden/Alamy Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (third from right) with his players during the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League trophy parade in London in 2012.

Bico later became general manager at Belgian club Royal White Star Bruxelles, which struck a “partnership agreement” with Chelsea in 2015. Royal White Star was dissolved in 2017 after falling into financial difficulty.

In March 2013, Abramovich’s Leiston Holdings agreed to pay 7 million euros ($8.97 million) to Gulf Value FZE Documents show Bico owned Gulf Value at the time of the deal, but its current ownership is unclear. , a United Arab Emirates-registered company owned by Bico, for “services related to sport research and consultancy.” The agreement was set to run for five years, but was terminated early, in July 2016. Requests for comment sent to telephone numbers known to have been used by Bico went unanswered.

Another beneficiary seems to have been the influential Serbian agent Vladica “Vlado” Lemic, who was described as a friend of Abramovich in multiple press articles in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Lemic was reportedly involved in the transfers of Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic, two Serbian stars who joined Chelsea in 2008 and 2009.

Between 2013 and 2016, companies owned by Abramovich signed several consulting agreements with now-defunct Luxembourg-based Top Pro Sport Investments S.A., which was directed by Lemic although its ultimate ownership was unknown, and Bosnia and Herzegovina-registered Top Sports Consulting LLC, which was owned by Lemic’s brother. In total, the agreements, for scouting talented young football players, were worth as much as 7.25 million euros ($9.05 million) and 1 million pounds ($1.53 million).

There is no indication in the agreements that the consultancy work was related to Chelsea. A request for comment sent to Top Sports Consulting went unanswered.

Abramovich’s Leiston Holdings also signed scouting agreements worth 144,000 euros ($186,000) with Pieter de Visser, a renowned Dutch scout sometimes credited with bringing Chelsea legends Arjen Robben and Petr Cech to Abramovich’s attention.

The agreements do not mention Chelsea business. De Visser said: “I really don’t know anything about these payments for scouting services to my private bank account.”

In November 2013, Abramovich’s Leiston Holdings signed a 1-million-pound ($1.62 million) deal that would give the company priority rights to acquire any player produced by Association des Jeunes Espoirs de Bobo, a football academy in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, for the next 10 years.

The agreement was signed by David Traore, the academy’s general secretary at the time. Three weeks earlier, his brother, 18-year-old rising star Bertrand Traore, had agreed to a 4.5-year contract with Chelsea, and formally joined the club three months later when the Premier League’s transfer window opened in January 2014.

Chelsea later said that prior to joining that January, Traore had been party to an option agreement “which enabled the club to acquire his registration in January 2014.” It’s unclear whether the option agreement cited by Chelsea in its statement is the same as the agreement reviewed by OCCRP.

Requests for comment from Bertrand and David Traore, sent via Bertrand Traore’s current club Aston Villa FC, went unanswered.

Offshore Deals and Superstar Signings

In the summer of 2013 Chelsea landed two big-ticket signings: Brazilian international Willian and legendary Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto’o, both of whom joined the club from Russian side FC Anji Makhachkala, known as FC Anji. Willian became a driving force of Chelsea’s success, playing at the club until 2020 and winning the Premier League twice in his first three seasons.

Two months before the pair signed, Abramovich’s company Leiston Holdings signed “scouting and other football related advice” deals, worth a combined 24 million euros ($31.8 million), with two obscure British Virgin Islands companies set up by a Swiss firm that appears to have acted as a front for FC Anji’s owner, Russian businessman Suleiman Kerimov, and his family.

🔗Tracing the Deals to Kerimov

The ownership of the two British Virgin Islands firms that signed deals with Abramovich’s company is hidden behind offshore secrecy rules, but evidence from leaked files and U.S. Treasury sanctions helped reporters tie them to Kerimov and his family.

The “master client” of the two offshore firms was Swiru Holding AG – a Switzerland firm (since renamed Alstone Investment AG) whose chief financial officer was Nariman Gadzhiev, the nephew of Kerimov, two separate sets of leaked correspondence reveal.

Acting on behalf of Swiru Holding, Gadzhiev was listed as the contact person for a Bermuda firm part-owned by Kerimov, according to leaked files from offshore law firm Appleby.

Last year, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Kerimov and Gadzhiev, describing the latter as “a primary financial facilitator for Kerimov.” It also sanctioned Swiru Holding for being owned or controlled by Swiss national Laurin Katz, whom it sanctioned for acting on behalf of Kerimov’s daughter.

A 2022 BBC investigation reported court records relating to a French tax evasion investigation of Kerimov which identified Kerimov and his family as the “effective and exclusive beneficiary” of luxury French property once held by Swiru Holding.

Kerimov and Gadzhiev have not publicly commented on the media reports or U.S. sanctions.

Last month, The Times of London reported that an ongoing Premier League investigation into payments made to offshore companies during Abramovich’s tenure at Chelsea will include “scrutiny of financial transactions around the signings of Willian and Samuel Eto’o.” Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper reported that payments may have been made separately to official transfer fees paid for the two players. The Premier League declined to comment.

It’s not clear that the payments to the Kerimov-linked firms are part of the Premier League’s investigation.

Subsequent agreements signed the following year say the two firms had provided the services to Abramovich’s company, but gave no further details.

While Abramovich’s outlays at Chelsea were momentous for the club, for a few years in the 2010s it seemed like Kerimov was determined to outdo him. He poured huge sums into FC Anji after buying the club in 2011.

Kerimov, a native of Dagestan, had convinced Eto’o to swap elite European football in Milan for life in the Russian republic’s capital, Makhachkala, a hotbed of violence fueled by crime, ethnic rivalries and religious insurgency, with a reported 423,000 euros (around $610,000) per week contract, a world-record salary at the time. Not that Eto’o spent much time in Makhachkala — he and his fellow players were based in Moscow, flying to Dagestan only for games due to the widespread violence in the region.

Samuel Eto'o during a match
Credit: Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa/Alamy Samuel Eto'o during a match between his native Cameroon and Germany in Moenchengladbach, Germany, June 2014.

Eto’o’s signing was followed by that of legendary Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos, whom Kerimov reportedly gifted a multi-million-dollar Bugatti. On top of signing high-profile players, Kerimov financed the construction of a new club stadium.

But FC Anji did not have the same success as Chelsea in England. After just two seasons and with little sign of improvement, Kerimov slashed the club’s budget by as much as $70 million, its then-chairman Konstantin Remchukov told media.

Lawyers for Kerimov did not respond to questions about the deals with Abramovich. Last year, FC Anji lost its license to compete professionally in Russia after falling into financial difficulty.

Conflict of Interest

On an October evening in London in 2004, Chelsea’s players lined up for the club’s first-ever UEFA Champions League game against CSKA Moscow. Captain John Terry opened the scoring on what would be the first of two victories over the Russian team that fall.

Watching from inside Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium that night, a satisfied Roman Abramovich had another reason to celebrate.

The previous month, a UEFA investigation had concluded that the billionaire had no “controlling interest” in CSKA Moscow, after allegations of improper ties to the Russian champions were raised when an oil company he owned at the time, Sibneft, made a $54 million, three-year sponsorship deal with the club.

UEFA rules require that “no individual or legal entity may have control or influence over more than one club participating in a UEFA club competition” in order to avoid conflicts of interest and ensure competitive integrity. Because Sibneft’s majority owner was Abramovich, its sponsorship of CSKA Moscow had raised uncomfortable questions for UEFA.

In footage from Chelsea’s contest with CSKA Moscow in 2004, Abramovich is seen standing and smiling with the Russian club’s president, Evgeny Giner. The two have been described in press reports as “close friends” ever since. But leaked documents indicate that closeness extended to secretive financial arrangements going beyond the Sibneft deal, tying Abramovich more directly to CSKA Moscow’s president than has previously been reported.

Between 2010 and 2016, three British Virgin Islands companies owned by Abramovich agreed to loan a combined $82.7 million plus 9.5 million euros ($12.46 million) to British Virgin Islands-based Spencerdale Limited Spencerdale was renamed Meraldic Limited and struck off in late 2022, according to the British Virgin Islands official gazette. There was a 2018 notice to strike off its parent company, NYX Management Limited, but it’s not clear whether it was eventually struck off. , whose shares were held by another British Virgin Islands company owned by Giner’s son, Vadim.

The loans were marked for “general corporate purposes” and to fund “investments in commercial real estate,” according to agreements seen by OCCRP. In several cases, Evgeny Giner personally guaranteed the loans.

One loan, for $50 million, was granted in February 2012. At the time, Chelsea and CSKA Moscow were competing in the Champions League and could have played each other, had CSKA Moscow advanced to the competition’s final. Chelsea went on to win the competition.

After receiving loans from Abramovich’s companies, Spencerdale loaned millions of dollars to CSKA Moscow, according to financial accounts for its U.K.-based parent company. This company was dissolved in October 2023. One loan, worth $12.5 million, was to finance the acquisition of the Brazilian forward Victor Vinícius Coelho dos Santos, known as Vitinho. Spencerdale also loaned $6.5 million to OJSC Oktyabr Training, Sports and Recreational Center, an affiliate company of CSKA Moscow in Russia. According to the consolidated financial accounts of CSKA Moscow’s parent firm, by 2015, Spencerdale had loaned some $23.3 million to the group.

It’s not known if the funds used to buy Vitinho or those loaned to Oktyabr originated from Abramovich’s companies’ loans. But at least one agreement saw money pass from Abramovich’s firm to Spencerdale on football-related business.

In 2010, Abramovich’s company, Ovington Worldwide, signed a 2.5-million-euro ($3.39 million) consultancy agreement with Spencerdale which would “locate new football talents” for Ovington Worldwide “and its related entities.”

The arrangements are reminiscent of Abramovich’s extensive loans to Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem, revealed earlier this year by OCCRP’s media partners the Guardian and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Abramovich had twice been investigated by the Netherlands football association for financial ties to Vitesse, but both probes concluded Abramovich did not exert influence on the club. However, the publication of new details showing how Abramovich bankrolled Vitesse with over 100 million euros in loans prompted a fresh investigation in May. (The Dutch football association said its investigation is still ongoing, but declined to comment further.)

There were also other loans linking Abramovich and Giner: In 2008, Giner personally guaranteed loans worth $210 million which Abramovich’s firm Leiston Holdings issued to three Cyprus companies Two of these firms were active until at least September this year, the third was dissolved in 2021. operating in finance.

CSKA Moscow did not respond to requests for comment addressed to Evgeny and Vadim Giner. Vadim Giner did not reply to an email sent to his personal email address.

Shifting Fortunes

After 19 years of ownership, Abramovich sold Chelsea last year after he was sanctioned by the U.K. government following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. His tenure at the club brought unprecedented success: Chelsea won 21 domestic and international trophies, including a Champions League Final victory over Manchester City in 2021.

Since then, the team’s fortune has changed.

Last season, Chelsea finished twelfth in the Premier League — its lowest finish since 1994 — and failed to qualify for either of UEFA’s major tournaments, the Champions League and its junior competition, the Europa League.

And the club faces problems off the pitch too. As well as the multi-million-euro fine it received from UEFA in July, Chelsea could face further penalties if the Premier League’s on-going investigation uncovers FFP violations under Abramovich, Cuthbert, the sports law barrister, told OCCRP.

But retrospective penalties cannot undo the outcomes of past competitions, and if Chelsea were found to have gained an unfair advantage, this could do serious damage to the reputation of the sport, Cuthbert said.

“Any opportunity to gain an unfair advantage skews the competition in favor of a particular club, and undermines the integrity of football. Flouting the rules undermines integrity,” he said.

“This is about clubs playing fairly and being seen to play fairly. And without both those things, trust in the game diminishes.”

Fact-checking was provided by the OCCRP Fact-Checking Desk.

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