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Abramovich rejects claim he bought Chelsea on Putin’s orders

Abramovich rejects claim he bought Chelsea on Putin’s orders

28.07.2021 From our online archive
Russian owner of London football club launches legal action over comments made in book
Chelsea's Russian owner Roman Abramovich
Chelsea's Russian owner Roman Abramovich
Photo credit: AFP

Claims that Roman Abramovich, Chelsea Football Club Ltd’s billionaire owner, was directed to buy the team by Vladimir Putin to infiltrate the British political elite are “profoundly defamatory,” his lawyers said.

Abramovich sued Catherine Belton, the author of “Putin’s People: How The KGB Took Back Russia And Then Took On The West,” which was published by Harper Collins, over the allegations.

The Russian, now worth about $19 billion (€16 billion), built his fortune from dividends and sales of privatised assets acquired from the former Soviet Union, including Sibneft and Aeroflot. He bought Chelsea in 2003 and has poured tens if not hundreds of millions into recruiting top players that helped it win championships in the UK and in Europe.

Abramovich was accused by Belton in her book of buying Chelsea at the “secret discretion of Putin to infiltrate and corrupt the UK political elite,” Abramovich’s lawyer Hugh Tomlinson said during a London hearing on Wednesday. Abramovich was also described by the author as “Putin’s cashier,” and one of the “Kremlin’s trusted custodians,” Tomlinson said.

“Mr Abramovich doesn’t bring this claim lightly,” the lawyer said. The book “repeats lazy inaccuracies” and “all he wants to do is set the record straight.”

Belton and Harper Collins are also being sued for libel by Rosneft Oil Co. PJSC, a Russian state-owned energy company and oligarch Mikhail Fridman is bringing similar claims. Tomlinson, however, denied there was any coordination between the suits.

Lawyers for the author and publisher said in court documents that the claim Abramovich bought the club to “infiltrate, manipulate and corrupt the British elite” didn’t mean “bribing the elite to do any specific discreditable or unlawful act as distinct from the book’s thesis” that Putin was gaining greater global acceptance.

A request for comment from Abramovich sent through Chelsea was not immediately returned. HarperCollins did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Both the publisher and Belton are being represented in the case by Andrew Caldecott.

The judge will make a preliminary ruling on the meaning of the statements made about Abramovich, Rosneft and Fridman in the book, which will form the basis of a trial in the case.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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