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Abramovich ownership unchanged beyond PR

A day after Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich handed over the “stewardship and care” of the Premier League club to its charitable foundation trustees, declaring he always had “the club’s best interest at heart,” several issues remain.

What has been heard from Abramovich is a vague suggestion of ceding control of Chelsea without legally doing so.

What hasn’t been heard is condemnation by Chelsea and its Russian oligarch owner of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It wasn’t heard in the statement issued by Chelsea on Sunday about what it called the “conflict in Ukraine”.

The conflict was described as “horrific and devastating” but there was no mention of the aggressor behind the war – Russia.

“Everyone at the club is praying for peace,” the west London club urged in an unusual statement from a football team which touched on geopolitics around coverage on its website building up to Sunday’s League Cup final meeting with Liverpool.

The words didn’t go far enough for one member of the British Parliament. Chris Bryant, a legislator with the opposition Labour Party, who raised objections to Abramovich in the House of Commons earlier in the week and said “seizing some of his assets” should be considered by the UK government.

“Unless and until he condemns the criminal invasion of Ukraine,” Bryant tweeted on Sunday, “I will continue to call for the UK to sanction him and seize/freeze assets.”

The pre-emptive move by Abramovich on Saturday, giving the impression of handing over control of the reigning European and world champions, did not actually cede power in any legal sense.

It was a carefully worded statement that looked at first glance to be a significant distancing of Abramovich from day-to-day operations at Chelsea, but is more symbolic in reality.

Why Abramovich was transferring the reins to the charitable foundation was not stated but could be inferred with the British government’s targeting of Russians with sanctions increasing as the war intensifies.

“That statement is pretty carefully crafted as you would imagine,” Danny Davis, a partner at London-based law firm Mishcon de Reya, told The Associated Press.

Davis believes the aim is an attempt to distance Abramovich from “whatever is coming down the track to the extent we are able.”

There was no statement from the club itself, nor from the trustees. It also wasn’t made clear how a foundation with charitable status would be running the club, even if that was the case.

Abramovich made his fortune in oil and aluminum during the chaotic years that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and then diverted wealth to London to transform the fortunes of Chelsea.

Whether his statement proves enough to fend off British government actions against his assets will only become clearer in the days ahead.

While Abramovich has links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he denies any close association or taking orders from the Kremlin.

But calls are growing for Abramovich to clearly distance himself from the Putin-ordered invasion of Ukraine.

For all the success Abramovich has brought to Chelsea – including five Premier League titles and two Champions League successes – the fans are demanding answers about his ownership.

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