The uncertainty surrounding Roman Abramovich’s ownership of Chelsea deepened Thursday when the Premier League club abruptly halted plans to build a new stadium, citing an unfavorable climate to invest in the 500 million pound ($665 million) project.
The announcement comes after it emerged the Russian billionaire was yet to have his British visa renewed amid a crackdown by authorities on associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Chelsea is yet to comment on the future at the Premier League club for Abramovich, who this week flew into Israel to receive Israeli citizenship.
The statement announcing the suspension of the Stamford Bridge redevelopment project pointed to concerns about Chelsea’s willingness to invest in a new 60,000-seat stadium. Planning approval had already been received from local authorities to replace the existing 41,000-capacity venue on the west London site but the club says it has “put its new stadium project on hold.”
“No further pre-construction design and planning work will occur,” Chelsea said in a statement. “The club does not have a time frame set for reconsideration of its decision. The decision was made due to the current unfavorable investment climate.”
Chelsea has other issues to deal with as well at the start of the offseason. Although the club’s players lifted the FA Cup this month, they failed to qualify for the Champions League after finishing fifth in the Premier League.
Antonio Conte also publicly expressed doubts about his future as manager after the cup final and Chelsea has been linked with a series of replacements even though Abramovich has not fired the Italian, who has a year left on his contract.
Abramovich has overseen more than $1 billion in spending since taking over Chelsea in 2003, turning the team into a force that has won five Premier League titles and the Champions League. But the spending has slowed in recent years as Abramovich sought to make Chelsea more self-sufficient to comply with financial fair play rules.
Accounts for the holding company that owns Chelsea show that it owes 1.1 billion pounds in loans to Abramovich that could be repaid at 18 months’ notice.
Abramovich made his fortune in oil and aluminum during the chaotic years that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He’s since embraced a glamorous lifestyle, with vast private yachts, art deals and ownership of one of England’s biggest football teams.
But the status of wealthy Russians operating in Britain has been placed in doubt since the government pledged to review the long-term Tier 1 investor visas of oligarchs in the aftermath of the March poisonings of Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury The poisonings sparked a Cold War-style diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West, including the expulsion of hundreds of diplomats from both sides.