Chelsea may face further scrutiny about the funding of their success and possible Financial Fair Play (FFP) breaches under previous owner Roman Abramovich.
A report by The Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) details leaked documents which appear to show a series of payments — worth tens of millions of pounds — made by Abramovich-owned companies to entities linked to deals that appear to benefit Chelsea.
The payments, recorded in documents which have surfaced as part of an international investigation known as Cyprus Confidential but have not been verified by The Athletic, appear to show transactions made to associates and agents who dealt with Chelsea during their rise under Abramovich which the investigation suggests may not have been declared.
The Premier League and the English FA are already investigating Chelsea for possible breaches of financial regulations but this latest investigation could raise more questions over how the London club’s success during the Abramovich era was funded if the payments were not appropriately declared. Chelsea won 19 trophies in Abramovich’s 19 years as owner, including five Premier League and two Champions League titles, as they developed into one of the biggest clubs in European football.
Earlier this year, Chelsea’s current owners — a consortium led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital — self-reported incomplete financial information related to transactions that took place during the Abramovich regime between 2012 and 2019 to the Premier League, the FA and UEFA.
“We have been pretty open about the historic issues with regard to Chelsea because they self-reported to the Premier League and to the FA so it is obvious we are looking into that,” Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said in August.
“If the Premier League believes a club has breached the financial regulations and there is a case to answer, that case will be put to the club.”
Following Chelsea’s self-reporting, UEFA fined Chelsea €10million (£8.6m, $11m) for historical breaches of FFP regulations in July. UEFA said at the time that the fine settled the matter and Chelsea were to face no further sporting sanctions from European football’s governing body.
The Boehly-Clearlake group completed its takeover of Chelsea from Abramovich in May 2022. The 57-year-old Russian was forced to sell the club following sanctions from the UK government, who described him as a “pro-Kremlin oligarch” in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier that year.
What is the relationship between Chelsea’s current owners and the previous regime?
Analysis by Chelsea correspondent Liam Twomey
From the moment they assumed full control of Chelsea in June 2022, the Boehly-Clearlake has sought to draw a firm line from virtually everything related to the Abramovich era.
That desire quickly manifested in the departures of director Marina Granovskaia, chairman Bruce Buck and technical and performance advisor Petr Cech. Beyond that, long-serving staff hired by Abramovich have left their jobs in every department of the club’s sporting and commercial operations.
Chelsea’s first-team squad has also been almost entirely overhauled in the first three windows of Boehly-Clearlake ownership, with numerous older players and high earners sold or released and the signing of many of their replacements driven by a transfer strategy focusing on younger talent prepared to commit to long-term contracts with lower, more incentivised salaries.
Boehly and Clearlake’s view has always been that Chelsea under Abramovich was not run as a normal, sustainable business — an assessment that, if these allegations are proven to be true, would be more accurate than anyone previously thought.
The consortium also withheld £100m from the final purchase price of Chelsea due to concerns they could inherit “unforeseen liabilities” after examining the club’s finances, and subsequently agreed to that £8.6m settlement with UEFA for “submitting incomplete financial information” between 2012 in 2019 in breach of FFP.
Chelsea proactively reported those issues to UEFA, the FA and the Premier League, and will be hoping that this cooperative approach — coupled with the fact that the Boehly-Clearlake group was not in charge when these alleged rule breaches were committed — will be taken into consideration when determining potential punishments.
Why are the allegations important?
The Premier League and UEFA have financial regulations in place in order to govern clubs’ finances and prevent excessive spending from teams competing in their competitions. UEFA says its FFP rules are in place to protect “the overall financial health of European club football”.
Clubs can be fined and/or handed points deductions if they are found guilty of breaching financial rules. Just as in Chelsea’s case this summer, UEFA has routinely fined clubs which break its FFP regulations. Manchester United and Barcelona were also fined this year, while Juventus were banned from UEFA competitions this season for financial breaches.
What happens now?
The Premier League and FA must now decide how to proceed with their investigations and whether to add these new claims to those they are already looking into. The organisations will consider a number of factors relating to any allegations they look into before deciding on any potential punishments.
“One would expect, like UEFA’s investigation, the Premier League and the FA’s investigations to centre on whether the club complied with the various financial reporting obligations in their respective rule books,” says Nii Anteson, partner and solicitor advocate at Sheridans law firm. “However, in each of the Premier League and the FA’s rules there is also the concept of good faith, i.e., that clubs must act in good faith in all of their dealings with the League as well as other clubs and officials.
“This is one of a number of interesting factors in this case which traverses ownership regimes and, depending on your perspective, can just as easily be an aggravating or mitigating factor when thinking about the appropriate sanction if they find rules have been systematically broken.
“You can see the argument that any apparent concealment of payments over quite a long period of time is an aggravating factor. You would imagine that the regulators would want to reinforce the deterrent effect of their rules by imposing a strong sanction.
“But, how do you weigh that up against the notion that the new regime acted in good faith by proactively self-reporting these issues when it could, conceivably, have sat on them? It makes for a fascinating case and one which is difficult to predict the outcome of.”
The Premier League declined to comment to The Athletic while its investigation is ongoing. An FA spokesperson, meanwhile, confirmed: “We are investigating.”
Are there other clubs under investigation for similar allegations?
In February, English champions Manchester City were referred to an independent commission after the Premier League hit them with 115 charges relating to a series of alleged breaches of financial rules between the 2009-10 and 2017-18 seasons. City deny any wrongdoing.
Man City charges explained: The accusations, possible punishments and what happens next
The following month, Everton were also referred to an independent commission by the Premier League following an alleged breach of financial fair play rules during the 2021-22 season. Everton also deny any wrongdoing.
What has the response been to the allegations against Chelsea?
“These allegations pre-date the club’s current ownership,” Chelsea said in response to the latest report into payments by Abramovich-owned companies.
“They are based on documents which the club has not been shown and do not relate to any individual who is presently at the club.”
In relation to the previous investigations, Chelsea added: “Immediately following the completion of the purchase, the club proactively self-reported these matters to all applicable football regulators.
“In accordance with the club’s ownership group’s core principles of full compliance and transparency the club has proactively assisted the applicable regulators with their investigations and will continue to do so.”
When asked about the latest allegations by The Athletic, UEFA referred back to the July decision by its Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) to fine Chelsea £8.6m.
It added that “all the transactions that took place before 2017 are time-barred according to Article 37 of the procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body”.
But a fresh investigation into Chelsea was not ruled out: “Should the CFCB become aware of new transactions that had not yet been reported to UEFA, then the CFCB might open new proceedings against the club.”
The Athletic has approached Abramovich’s representatives for comment.
You can view Abramovich as English football’s original sin – but it’ll be tough to airbrush Chelsea titles from history
(Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images)