Chelsea hope to complete the sale of the club by allowing the government to hold the £1.6 billion loan owed to Roman Abramovich.
The sale is in jeopardy amid government concerns that Abramovich, Chelsea’s present owner, is attempting to renege on a promise to write off the sum, which he lent to the club via a company called Camberley International Investments.
Ministers, who have sanctioned Ambramovich for his links to Vladimir Putin and will have to approve any sale of the club, want proceeds from the takeover to be used to help to rebuild Ukraine after the Russian invasion.
They were dismayed to be told last week that Abramovich now wanted to restructure the purchase agreement, with a requirement for Chelsea’s parent company, Fordstam, to pay off the debt held in trust at the Jersey-based Camberley. But sources close to the process have told The Times that the sale can be completed with no money being paid to Camberley until the government is satisfied none of the £1.6 billion will go to Abramovich or his beneficiaries.
Instead, more than £2.5 billion for the purchase of the club will be paid to the government, allowing ministers to donate £1 billion to the Ukraine crisis. The remainder will be held until other issues with the trust are resolved.
On Wednesday, Chelsea’s banking adviser, the New York-based Raine Group, was locked in talks at Stamford Bridge with the consortium led by the LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly, which until tomorrow is in a five-day period of exclusivity as the preferred bidder. Earlier in the day the group was involved in meetings with government ministers, with the assistance of the former chancellor George Osborne, who acts for the City advisory firm Robey Warshaw.
Both the Boehly group and Chelsea were confident on Wednesday night of the government issuing a licence for the completion of the sale, even though a solution to the loan problem has not been found.
When the rival bidding groups were told last week about the issue, the consortium led by Sir Martin Broughton, and mostly funded by his US business partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer, responded by asking to see the trust document that would reveal the identity of the one signatory — the trustee — as well as the beneficiaries.
The ultimate ownership of Camberley is unclear, but it appears to be linked to Abramovich or members of his family. The Broughton group wanted more information about the trust, and assurances that the money would go to Ukraine as promised, before signing off the request to pay the loan.
They claim, therefore, that the money should be frozen in an account controlled by the UK government until the matter becomes clearer and Treasury officials are satisfied that the cash will go to charity.
Rivals have nevertheless been left surprised by the success of the Boehly group when so much of its bid is being funded by private equity. Reports suggest that Clearlake Capital, the California-based investment company, is providing 60 per cent of the money for a deal worth more than £4 billion.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the Mancunian head of the petrochemicals giant Ineos, who made a late bid for Chelsea last week, told the BBC on Wednesday that Boehly’s takeover would not be allowed in mainstream US sports. He said: “I don’t know Todd and I don’t know his group. What I do know is I spent quite a few years of my life working in the world of venture capital and private equity, which is when in my thirties I partly learnt my trade of buying businesses.
“It’s a simple business: you persuade a pension fund or an insurance company to give you money to manage, you manage the money with the intention of increasing the value, and if you increase the value you get share of the profits.
“So your focus is always on, ‘How do I invest and make that money grow?’, and it’s typically a five-year time horizon — and their [Boehly’s] main funder is private equity and venture capital.
“In America the big sports clubs won’t allow those people to come in and buy the clubs, so you can’t buy an NFL football club, but in the UK you can.”
Ratcliffe’s bid was rejected by the Raine Group but he still hopes to move back into contention if the Boehly consortium cannot conclude its takeover. He said: “We like football. It’s no deeper than that, really. It’s very much in our roots. Ineos [is] not particularly well known, but it’s bigger than Barclays, it’s bigger than Nike. If we want to make money, we make money in our chemicals — you know bit of oil and gas, that sort of thing.
“The investment in Chelsea is a long-term thing. Can we run that club really well and turn it into one of the finest clubs in Europe — that’s our ambition
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