A former Unicef chief executive has begged the government to approve Todd Boehly’s £4.25billion takeover of Chelsea and insisted Roman Abramovich will not benefit amid concerns the deal could collapse.
A consortium led by the US investor have agreed terms to end the Abramovich era at Stamford Bridge but there was ‘alarm’ among ministers on Monday that the deal was at risk of ‘falling apart’ over the oligarch’s alleged ‘refusal to agree’ to a proposed sale structure.
With the final deadline for a deal to go through a fortnight away, negotiations hit another snag over the £1.6bn owed by Chelsea’s parent company, Fordstam Ltd, to Jersey-registered Camberley International Investments, a company with suspected links to Abramovich.
The government say they have been ‘clear all along’ that they will not countenance any deal that could possibly see some money end up in Abramovich’s pocket.
Former Unicef UK executive director Mike Penrose has been tasked with forming the new independent foundation to which owner Abramovich wants to donate all proceeds from the Blues’ sale.
And he has now called on the government to allow the takeover to progress, insisting ‘lives are at stake’ as the brutal conflict rumbles on.
He also insists he would never have taken on the role if Abramovich or his associates were able to influence the charity when it is eventually formed.
Todd Boehly’s £4.25bn Chelsea purchase is set to be approved by the Premier League
The takeover was back in doubt on Monday with Roman Abramovich refusing a sale structure
Penrose has submitted a ‘scoping document’ to the government, outlining plans for ‘the world’s biggest humanitarian or conflict-affected charity’ and how it will run.
He insisted he has never had direct contact with Abramovich, and revealed legal undertakings to ensure neither Chelsea nor the Blues’ current owner could ever benefit from the funds intended for the foundation.
Penrose said: ‘The only thing between this becoming a reality and now, is politics.
‘I have absolutely no interest in the politics of the sale. I have no interest in the politics of the government. If politics gets in the way, then that is to me almost criminal, it really is.
‘I’ve written into the document that’s gone to the government that no-one who has ever been associated with the club, associated with the owner, can or will ever receive financial benefit.
‘And that would go into the articles of association of the foundation. That’s written into the document that’s now in the hands of the government.
‘I’ve written an overview, a scoping document on the foundation, on what we want to achieve, and an initial budget to set the thing up, and get it running and allocating money.
Ex-Unicef chief executive Mike Penrose (left) has promised Roman Abramovich won’t benefit
‘I’d like to say I was confident, but I’m nervous about the politics of it all.
‘I’ve spent my entire life in humanitarian aid, and I’m very worried that what might come out of this is politics over decent humanitarian action.
‘But on the other hand I also hope that this government sees the opportunity that it has here. The government could create the world’s leading humanitarian foundation.
‘And I’m prepared to stand up in front of any government committee, panel, anything, and attest to the neutrality of how this is being created.
‘I hope they see fit to allow it to go ahead, and I hope they allow us to get the money to the front line in Ukraine very quickly.’
According to The Telegraph, Boehly’s bid is expected to be approved by the Premier League this week.
It’s claimed that confirmation that the takeover has successfully passed the league’s much-maligned owners’ and directors’ test is due to arrive ‘imminently’ but the bid will still need government sign off.
Abramovich wants his loan to Chelsea’s parent company Fordstam to be repaid to Camberley International Investments
It’s understood ministers proposed that funds from any sale would be kept in a holding account, and released only once they are satisfied the money can go to a foundation to help victims of the Ukraine war.
Abramovich recently denied he was going back on a pledge to write off the debt but on Monday a government source suggested that ‘despite committing to all proceeds going to good causes in public, Abramovich seems unwilling to give the same legal commitments.’
A government source added: ‘Two big sticking points remain – where exactly the proceeds of the sale will be held, and what legal guarantees government will be given about the money going to good causes… a deal which would allow the cash to be diverted during the deal would be a breach of sanctions and is seen as a red line for ministers.’
Chelsea are operating under a special licence after Abramovich was sanctioned following the invasion of Ukraine, over his alleged links to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
That licence expires on May 31, with any deal requiring sign-off from ministers and the football authorities.
Chelsea are operating under a special licence after Abramovich was hit by sanctions
A government source said they will continue to talk and work through the complexities of the takeover.
But there is now ‘quite serious concern in government that the deal may fall apart and that Roman Abramovich is ultimately willing to let Chelsea go under.’
They added that ‘a good chunk of the sale’ needs to be completed this week or next, with deadlines looming ‘which would either see the club booted out of European competition or the Premier League entirely.’
May 31 is also the final day for the club to be registered for European competitions next season, while the Premier League will meet in early June to grant clubs the licenses required to play next season.’