The protracted sale of Chelsea FC has hit a potentially significant stumbling block due to fears that current owner Roman Abramovich is attempting to go back on a pledge to write off the club's £1.6bn debt to him.
Upon putting his prized asset up for sale in March before being hit by government sanctions, the Russian-Israeli oligarch had promised to disregard the huge sum owed to him, saying: "I will not be asking for any loans to be repaid. This has never been about business nor money for me, but about pure passion for the game and club."
However, there is growing concern that Abramovich wants to renege on his word and is trying to recoup Chelsea's £1.6bn debt as part of the transaction. A consortium fronted by LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly has emerged as the preferred bidder for the club, despite a late move from British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
According to The Times, Chelsea informed the shortlisted bidders and the UK government last week that they wanted to 'restructure' the sale. That would involve paying off debt from Chelsea's parent company Fordsham Ltd to Camberley International Investments, based on the island of Jersey.
Camberley International Investments is seemingly linked to Abramovich, with the company listed as a funder in Fordsham's accounts alongside the 'ultimate controlling party, Mr R Abramovich'. This could provide a significant stumbling block to the transaction as he is under government sanctions with his assets frozen.
Ministers had previously been under the impression that all proceeds would go to good causes - as previously promised - via the government.
In a statement in March, Abramovich said: "I have instructed my team to set up a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated. The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine."
The Times write that Abramovich is apparently claiming that the sanctions mean he is unable to write off the debt.