London has refused to release the funds unless they are used directly in the embattled country
The UK government has yet to unfreeze the funds generated from last year’s sale of Chelsea football club, which were earmarked for Ukrainians suffering from the conflict with Russia, British officials have admitted. They blamed a “disagreement” with the club’s charitable foundation, although officials did not reveal if former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was the one blocking the process.
Russian businessman Abramovich completed a £4.25 billion ($5.3 billion) deal to sell Chelsea to a consortium of American investors in May 2022, after being sanctioned by the UK government for his alleged connections to the Kremlin. The tycoon, who denied the claims, said at the time that the proceeds would be used “for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine.”
However, Britain’s Europe Minister, Leo Docherty, told the European Affairs Committee on Tuesday that 18 months later, “the proceeds from the sale are frozen in a UK bank account.”
Docherty claimed that Chelsea’s charity foundation and the UK government were fundamentally at odds over the issue of whether the funds “get used in Ukraine or for Ukrainians outside of Ukraine.” The government had a strong preference for the former option, he added.
Daniel Drake, deputy director of the UK’s Sanctions Taskforce, noted that the “license which enabled the funds to be frozen continues to be in place,” and that the charity foundation had yet to apply for the second license required for the money to be released.
Docherty would not specify if it was Abramovich who was holding up the process, noting only that there was a “disagreement” between the government and those who run the foundation. At the same time, Drake declined to “speculate on what the other side is thinking… It’s ultimately up to them to apply for a license on the grounds that we made clear in our unilateral declaration which is for the funds to be spent in Ukraine.”
Western countries imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia following the start of the Ukraine conflict, freezing more than $300 billion of the country’s international reserves as well as assets belonging to wealthy individuals alleged to have close ties to Moscow.
Officials in the West have also repeatedly suggested using the blocked assets to help rebuild Ukraine. Moscow has denounced any such plans as “outright theft” and has warned of an “appropriate response.”
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