The sale of Chelsea to a group spearheaded by American businessman Todd Boehly is in doubt because sanctioned owner Roman Abramovich is unwilling to accept certain terms of the sale imposed by the British government.
The government is demanding that the £2.6bn fee agreed at the beginning of the month is placed in a holding account until it is guaranteed it can go to a foundation to help victims of the war in Ukraine, as promised by Abramovich more than two months ago.
But the 55-year-old, who was sanctioned on March 10 because the government said that it had proof he has long held close links to Russia president Vladimir Putin, wants the £1.6bn he has loaned the club since buying it in 2003 sent to a company registered in Jersey called Camberley International Investments, senior Westminster sources have briefed.
There are doubts around the ownership of the Jersey-based company and officials at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are not satisfied by the answers they have received from the club and Abramovich’s representatives. Last week the Charity Commission said that no application had been made to register a foundation.
A government source told The Times: “There’s quite serious concern in government that the deal may fall apart and that Roman Abramovich is ultimately willing to let Chelsea go under.
“There’s alarm in government about the gap between what Abramovich has said he will do publicly and what he’s willing to commit to legally as part of the sale process. There are pressing deadlines this week, and if there isn’t a breakthrough, we’re quite concerned that the sale of Chelsea could be timed out by certain sporting deadlines.”
Less than a fortnight ago Abramovich’s spokeswoman, using Chelsea’s official website, said in a statement that “Mr Abramovich has not asked for any loan to be repaid to him – such suggestions are entirely false.”
Chelsea have until May 31 to compelte a takeover because that is when their special operating licence, allowing it to continue putting teams on the pitch among severe off-field restrictions, is set to expire. It could technically be extended but Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, has previously indiciated that there is no apetite in Westminster for that to happen. “The clock is ticking,” she said days before it was announced that the Boehly group had been put forward as prospective buyers.
Another vital deadline is the first week of June, when the Premier League will meet to finalise the composition and regulations of next season. If Chelsea do not have new owners by then they face being kicked out of the the top tier.
“There are deadlines at the end of this month and the start of June, which would either see the club booted out of European competition or the Premier League entirely. But a good chunk of the sale needs to be done this week or next,” the same government source told the BBC.
The new owners have been working out of a rented office space in central London as they seek to get everything in order. No issues are expected from their side, meaning the deal hinges on the deadlock between the government and Abramovich being resolved.