The Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich was on Thursday hit with an assets freeze and travel ban as part of new UK government sanctions targeting seven Russian oligarchs.
Speculation has swirled for weeks about whether Abramovich would be included in the targeted action against Russian billionaires perceived to be close to the Kremlin.
Abramovich announced last week that he was selling his Chelsea Football Club. He had bought the English Premier League soccer team in 2003, and bankrolled its successes at the domestic and European level.
The latest sanctions imposed by the UK government freeze his ability to sell the club.
The UK government has estimated Abramovich’s net worth at £9.4 billion (11.1 billion euros, $12.2 billion), but said it was mitigating the effect of the sanctions on Chelsea by allowing the club to continue to operate.
The government has issued what it calls a “special license” that “authorizes a number of football-related activities,” the government said in a statement.
“This includes permissions for the club to continue playing matches and other football-related activity which will in turn protect the Premier League, the wider football pyramid, loyal fans and other clubs,” it added.
It is about “depriving Abramovich of benefiting from his ownership of the club,” Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries tweeted.
“I know this brings some uncertainty, but the Government will work with the league & clubs to keep football being played while ensuring sanctions hit those intended. Football clubs are cultural assets and the bedrock of our communities. We’re committed to protecting them.”
While pressure was mounting on Abramovich in the UK, the Jewish-Russian oligarch, who holds Israeli citizenship, was seen dining in a high-end restaurant in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Ynet reported.
Israel has said it will prevent Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the US from keeping their planes and yachts in Israel but is unable to stop Abramovich from entering the country.
Abramovich is a major donor to causes in Israel, including the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem.
This has placed Israel in the difficult position of having to adhere to US sanctions while trying to maintain good relations with several prominent donors to Jewish and Israeli causes.
Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman, who also holds Israeli citizenship, last week became the first Russian oligarch to speak out against the war, calling it a “tragedy,” while vowing to fight the “unfounded” EU sanctions targeting him.
Among others sanctioned by the UK are leading industrialist Oleg Deripaska, Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin, and the head of Gazprom Alexei Miller, the government announced.
Deripaska is Abramovich’s one-time business partner, while officials described Sechin as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “right-hand man.”
The four others — Miller, VTB bank chairman Andrey Kostin, Transneft president Nikolai Tokarev and Bank Rossiya chairman Dmitri Lebedev — are part of his inner circle.
Collectively, the seven have a net worth of about £15 billion, the statement read.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the sanctions “the latest step in the UK’s unwavering support for the Ukrainian people.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss added: “Today’s sanctions show once again that oligarchs and kleptocrats have no place in our economy or society.
“With their close links to Putin, they are complicit in his aggression. The blood of the Ukrainian people is on their hands. They should hang their heads in shame.”