From rags to riches… to fleeing Western sanctions: this is the story of How Roman Abramovich went from a penniless orphan to a billionaire oligarch to recommending Putin for president.
He is best known in Britain for being the secretive Chelsea FC owner who would while away the hours cheering on his superstars at Stamford Bridge.
But Roman Abramovich, who yesterday sensationally confirmed his beloved football club is up for sale, has a checkered history as Russian oligarch and alleged crony of President Vladimir Putin, who last week launched a brutal invasion on Ukraine that has so far killed thousands.
The billionaire has been embroiled in court battles throughout the last 20 years, including allegations of blackmail (a London court dismissed the case against him in 2012), bribery (he admitted to paying out billions for political favours in 2008) and unproven accusations loan fraud.
Now his name is among those the British government is being urged to sanction.
He has also been questioned over his links to the Russian president, with him last year denying in court he was Putin’s ‘cashier’ in the West – but is still seen as one of his ‘enablers’. He is said to have been the first person to recommend Putin for president to Boris Yeltsin, before Putin assumed office in 2000.
Until recently he had mostly lived his hugely privileged life in peace, either onboard his superyachts, in his mansions or on one of the private jets that make up his £8.4billion empire. He has also found time to create a large family, including seven children – Ilya, Arina, Sofia, Arkadiy, Anna, Aaron and Leah – from two of his three ex-wives.
But he has now found himself in a scramble to sell assets before they are frozen after Putin invaded Ukraine, which swiftly brought calls – so far unheeded – for Abramovich to be sanctioned and have his west London football team stripped from him.
The businessman, 55, had a remarkable rise to make his billions, having been born penniless in Saratov, south west Russia. Both his parents died when he was young, and he was instead raised by his grandparents in Komi, Siberia, from the age of four. Both his grandparents Vasily and Faina, were from Ukraine and fled during the war.
His mother, Irina, died at the age of 28 from fatal blood poisoning shortly after Abramovich was born after she fell pregnant again. His father Arkady threw himself into work, with his young son going to live with his grandparents.
But in May 1969, Arkady was crushed by a crane at a construction site. Both his legs were badly injured, and he died a few days after the accident. Soon after, Abramovich went to live with his uncle, 200 miles from Moscow.
Despite his early loss, the billionaire – who is Jewish and holds Russian, Israeli and Portuguese citizenship – had no complaints about his childhood when speaking about it in the past. ‘In your childhood, you can’t compare things: one eats carrots, one eats candy, both taste good. As a child you cannot tell the difference,’ he once said.
Abramovich first starting making money flogging plastic dolls on a market stall after dropping out of two colleges in the late 1980s. According to a biography Roman Abramovich: The Billionaire, he still employs a woman who worked for him back then. He went on to sell rubber ducks from his Moscow apartment.
In 1987 after Abramovich served brief stint in the Soviet army, the parents of his first wife Olga Lysova gave the Russian 2,000 rubles as a wedding present. This allowed him to expand the range of products he sold to deodorants and perfumes.
His first move into making serious money came during the perestroika – meaning openness – reforms as the Soviet Union started to wind down under Mikhail Gorbachev. The changes loosened the regime’s grip on businesses, meaning oligarchs could rise by making their firms legal and buy up state-owned companies.
Abramovich has been accused of using ruthless determination to become one of the richest men in the world before he was 40. He was arrested in 1992, having allegedly used false documents to get 55 tankers of diesel, before the charges were dropped.
He said of the incident in 2011: ‘I have never falsified any documents. None of the people close to me has ever faked a document.’
He added: ‘If backdating documents is something that is not very ethical, then perhaps we could be accused of that. This practice existed in Russia and, for sure, we must have done it. In the course of this case we say that certain documents have been signed two days early, or not.’
His fortune boomed when he linked up with Boris Berezovsky, who run the national car dealer firm Lada, but who was also close with President Boris Yeltsin. It gave the rising businessman key access, which was pivotal to making huge sums in post-Soviet Russia, and he even lived in a flat in the Kremlin.
It is even said that Abramovich was the man who first recommended Vladimir Putin to Yeltsin as his successor as Russia’s president. When Putin first formed his cabinet as Prime Minister in 1999, Abramovich interviewed all the candidates before they were given approval.
In the following years, he would remain one of Putin’s closest allies, and in 2007, Putin consulted with Abramovich on who should be his own successor. Dmitry Medvedev – who served as president from 2008 to 2012 before Putin returned to the role – was also personally recommended by Abramovich.
When the USSR’s industry was carved up at the top table, Abramovich was there to make his first few billions – mainly by buying up oil company Sibneft.
Berezovsky and Abramovich purchased the firm for just £100million using the controversial loans-for-shares program – when it was estimated to be worth around £600million.
It was the starting blocks for the tycoon’s huge wealth, with him raking back around £1.8billion from the sale of Sibneft.
The bulk of Abramovich’s UK wealth is to be found in Evraz, a steel and mining giant listed on the London stock market, which he is the largest shareholder.
Aside from business, Abramovich also worked in politics, becoming the governor of the far eastern Chukotka region in 2000 – after winning 92 per-cent of the vote – and pumped £180million into it.
He first came on the radar to ordinary Britons when he bought Chelsea football club in 2003, and put enough money on the table to help them compete.
He transformed the team from outside challengers to a Premier League giant with the help of Jose Mourinho and huge signings such as Didier Drogba.
Now it’s rumoured get May have been poisoned by Putin for trying to negotiate on Ukraine without Putins permission.
By Daily Mail