Russian oligarch billionaire Roman Abramovich has put Chelsea FC up for sale and written off £1.5 billion in loans to the club after being named by Sir Keir Starmer during Wednesday’s (March 2) PMQs.
In the Commons, Starmer asked Johnson why Abramovich has not yet faced any sanctions, stating: “[H]e is a person of interest to the Home Office because of his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activity and practices.
“Last week the prime minister said that Abramovich is facing sanctions, he later corrected the record to say that he isn’t. Well, why on earth isn’t he?”
Johnson replied that “it is not appropriate for me to comment on individual cases at this stage”, an answer received with loud groans from frustrated MPs.
Abramovich owns £150 million mansion in London
Within hours of being named by Starmer in PMQs, Abramovich confirmed he is selling Chelsea FC and writing off £1.5 billion in loans he has made to the club.
Abramovich – who bought Chelsea FC 19 years ago – is reportedly also trying to sell his £150 million London mansion ahead of potential sanctions being imposed, including an asset freeze.
He has denied being close to the Kremlin and today said he is setting up a foundation benefitting “all victims of the war in Ukraine” which will be funded by the “net proceeds” from selling Chelsea FC. Abramovch has already turned down a £2.5 billion offer for Chelsea this week, and has put a £3 billion price tag on the club, according to Sky News.
‘When will the prime minister sort this out?’ asks Starmer
Having asked Johnson about Abramovich during PMQs, Starmer followed with a question about another oligarch – “Igor Shuvalov, Putin’s former deputy prime minister” who “owns two flats not five minutes walk from this house”.
Shuvalov is one of “the cronies who prop up” Putin’s regime, said Starmer, who “dip their hands in the blood of Putin’s war”.
The Labour leader said Shuvalov “is on the the EU sanctions list, but he’s not on the UK sanctions list,” and asked: “When will the prime minister sort this out?”
Johnson again dodged the question and said he is “proud of what we have done already”. Starmer then asked if the PM is ashamed that knowledge of Shuvalov’s flats is only because of “information obtained and disclosed by Alexei Navalny” who “was was poisoned by the Russian state and he now sits in a Putin jail.
“Transparency is essential to rooting out corruption. It should be built into our law but it’s not. And I’m ashamed that we only know about Shuvalov’s Westminster flats because a dissident risked his life. Is the prime minister?”
Johnson again declined to answer directly, saying instead the UK is doing everything that we can to expose ill-gotten Russian loot”.
‘Nobody wants war’
Labour’s Chris Bryant MP spoke of his shame that the UK had signed the 1994 Budapest Memorandum but was not now preserving Ukraine’s territorial integrity. “I don’t want war, nobody wants war,” said Bryant, having pointed to the memorial shields at either end of the Commons to remember 45 MPs killed fighting for “plucky little Belgium” and Poland in WWI and WWII.
Bryant called for tougher sanctions on those close to Putin who have assets in the UK and, referring to legal threats from law firms representing oligarchs and blocking their exposure, he asked: “Why don’t we use parliamentary privilege to get this out there so the lawyers can’t attack the sanctions that we must surely bring, rapidly, today?”
Johnson has promised to publish a list of all those associated with the Kremlin, amid hints of further sanctions to come.
PMQs began with a standing ovation from MPs for the Ukrainian ambassador, observing proceedings from the gallery. Speaker Sir Lyndsay Hoyle said applause is not normally permitted in the Commons, but that today, with many MPs wearing blue and yellow ribbons for Ukraine, was a worthy exception.