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Chelsea risk having points deducted as Roman Abramovich’s secret funds might have breached Financial Fair Play rules

An international investigation known as Cyprus Confidential has shared files with the Guardian that reveal that former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich bankrolled the club in ways which most likely broke Financial Fair Play rules.

The Russian oligarch bought the Stamford Bridge club in 2003 for £140 million and sold it in May 2022 to Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital.

The Blues were on a spending spree for the majority of the 19 years Abramovich spent in charge, and leaked files have now revealed a string of secret payments made as he looked to circumvent the financial rules and laws.

Chelsea paid out millions over a decade to agents, clubs, an associate of Antonio Conte and Chelsea officials, and there are huge doubts over whether the monies were declared in accounts submitted to football’s governing bodies in England and Europe.

The payments were made through Abramovich’s hedge fund accounts domiciled overseas, and one of the files dated 18 July 2017 revealed that British Virgin Islands-based Conibair Holdings, a company that belongs to the Russian, signed an agreement with Italian agent Federico Pastorello.

The agent is an associate of Conte, and he was paid £10m for a 75% stake in Excellence Investment Fund (EIF) by the company.

Conte signed a new £9.6m-a-year contract with Chelsea on the same day that the payment was made, but Pastorello has insisted that the Italian manager is not a client of his.

Hazard’s agent John Bico-Penaque wanted around £6m in commission ahead of the Belgian’s move to Chelsea from Lille in the summer of 2012, and documents dated 29 March 2013 claim that Abramovich-owned BVI-based Leiston Holdings paid €7m to a Dubai-based company called Gulf Value FZE, and the contract was signed on the company’s behalf by Bico-Penaque.

Leiston also paid £1m to Bertrand Traoré’s former club Association des Jeunes Espoirs de Bobo, through a contract signed by Traoré’s brother, David, two months after the Burkinabé forward joined the Blues in October 2013.

Another company belonging to the former Chelsea owner made payments to the owner of now-defunct Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala, Suleiman Kerimov, in 2013, with Samuel Eto’o and Willian joining the Blues during the summer transfer window.

Back in June that same year, Leiston had agreed to pay two companies connected to Kerimov for services relating to football, including scouting and other football-related advice, with British Virgin Islands-based Tobeo Services Inc and Fernington Invest Corp getting paid €12m each.

A discretionary bonus payment of £250,000 was paid to former Chelsea sporting director Frank Arnesen, but it was done by another company rather than Chelsea.

Documents also revealed that at least €7m was paid to companies linked to Zoran and Vladica Lemic between 2005 and 2017, with the latter a key adviser to Abramovich.

He is said to have been very instrumental in the signings of Arjen Robben, Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic and Italian manager Carlo Ancelotti for Chelsea.

Some leading sports lawyers and football finance experts have told the Guardian that some of the payments made by Chelsea at the time may have broken the Premier League’s and UEFA’s FFP regulations, and they expect the club to be punished with huge fines or points deduction if found guilty.

The Premier League is currently investigating the club’s finances after their new owners reported that “incomplete financial information” had been submitted during Abramovich’s tenure.

The Guardian have approached the Football Association for comments, and a spokesperson replied: “We are investigating.”

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