Roman Abramovich secretly bankrolled Dutch football club, leaked documents suggest

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Exclusive: Files reveal €117m in loans for Vitesse Arnhem originated with then owner of Chelsea, despite repeated denials

Roman Abramovich secretly funded the takeover of a Dutch top division football club and bankrolled it for years during the period that he also owned Chelsea, leaked documents appear to show.

Two investigations by the Netherlands football association were unable to uncover any financial ties between Abramovich and the club, Vitesse Arnhem, and concluded that the Russian oligarch had no managerial influence on Vitesse. Both Vitesse under its then owners, and Chelsea under Abramovich, repeatedly denied the oligarch was involved in funding the Dutch club.

The financial information has come to light in the Oligarch files, a cache of leaked data originating from the Cyprus-based offshore service provider MeritServus. The documents, reviewed by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, appear to reveal for the first time at least €117m (£102.8m) in secret funding from Abramovich for the Vitesse takeover, which flowed through a series of entities registered in opaque offshore tax havens.

Links to Chelsea were suspected at the time of the 2010 takeover, which was led by the Georgian former footballer Merab Jordania. While he described Abramovich as his friend at the inaugural press conference, Jordania denied the oligarch was involved.

The Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) launched a first investigation into the financing of the takeover but found nothing to conflict with its rules.

Suspicions of links continued after Jordania’s takeover, as Chelsea used Vitesse – which plays in the Dutch Eredivisie – as a partner club, to which players not yet ready for the demands of the English Premier League could be loaned and gain competitive experience. Many Chelsea players went to Vitesse on loan throughout the 2010s, notably including the Serbia international Nemanja Matić and the current Chelsea and England star Mason Mount, who played for Vitesse in the 2017-18 season.

Further questions were asked after Jordania left in 2013 and another associate of Abramovich, the Russian businessman Alexander Chigirinsky, took over. Vitesse and Jordania revealed at that point that Chigirinsky had already been financially involved in the club, since the 2010 takeover.

In April 2014, Jordania appeared to allege that Chelsea was involved, fuming that Vitesse had been prevented from strengthening its team in a bid to win the Eredivisie and qualify for the Uefa Champions League because “London didn’t want that”. He later withdrew the comments, and still maintains there was no truth to the allegation.

The revelations prompted the second KNVB investigation, which concluded “there are no indications that Chelsea has a say in Vitesse’s policy”.

In 2017, the Guardian reported that associates of Abramovich based at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge offices had been involved in the Vitesse takeover. At the time, Chelsea declined to comment, saying only: “We enjoy a close working relationship with Vitesse Arnhem, as we do with other clubs.”

The rules of Uefa, the European football confederation, require clubs that play against each other to be independently owned and run “to ensure the integrity of the competitions”, and that “no individual or legal entity may have control or influence over more than one club participating in a Uefa club competition”.

The leaked trove of documents appears to show that Abramovich bankrolled Vitesse’s spending with a series of loans worth at least €117m (£102.8m) by the end of 2015. This was a huge investment for Vitesse, whose total turnover in 2014-15 was €14m (£12.3m).

Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 after becoming a Russian oil and gas billionaire, pouring £2bn into the club to fund signings of world-class stars. They delivered unprecedented success, including twice winning the Champions League. Abramovich was forced to sell Chelsea last year after being subject to sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Guardian

( International )