Abramovich stripped of Chelsea football club directorship

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Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club Roman Abramovich arrives at a division of the High Court in central London October 31, 2011. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/Files

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March 12 (Reuters) - The Premier League board has disqualified Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich as a director at the English top-flight soccer club after he was sanctioned by the British government over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the league said in a statement on Saturday.

Abramovich, who had been under scrutiny after Russia's invasion, said last week he was selling the London club. But the sale is now on hold, with Chelsea operating under a special government licence. read more

"The Board's decision does not impact on the club's ability to train and play its fixtures, as set out under the terms of a licence issued by the Government which expires on 31 May 2022," the league said.

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Chelsea did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.

The government welcomed the move and said it was not opposed to the sale of the club. It added that it had amended the special licence so the club could spend 900,000 pounds ($1.17 million) to stage each of the team's matches.

"We welcome the Premier League's action to disqualify Roman Abramovich as a Director of the football club. The Government has made clear that we need to hold to account those who have enabled the Putin regime," a spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said.

"We are open to a sale of the club and would consider an application for a licence to allow that to happen," he added.

The team can continue playing games and pay players and staff but cannot transfer players in or out, as the government tries to prevent Abramovich from benefiting in any way from such moves.

SUCCESSFUL ERA

Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 for a reported 140 million pounds and his investment resulted in the most successful era in their history, with the club winning five Premier League titles, five FA Cups and the Champions League twice.

On Saturday, Chelsea's shirt sleeve sponsor, South Korean Hyundai car company, said they were suspending their deal with the club.

"Through our partnership with Chelsea FC, we are proud supporters of the players, the fans and grassroots football," Hyundai said.

"However, in the current circumstances, we have taken the decision to suspend our marketing and communication activities with the Club until further notice."

Chelsea's main shirt sponsor, mobile network Three, has suspended ties, while another sponsor, Trivago, said it would stick with the club.

Russia says its actions in Ukraine are a "special military operation" designed not to occupy territory but to destroy its neighbour's military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

The entry on the British sanctions list described Abramovich as "a prominent Russian businessman and pro-Kremlin oligarch" who enjoyed "a close relationship for decades" with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Abramovich has denied having such ties.

Chelsea, who are third in the league with 56 points from 27 matches, host Newcastle United on Sunday.

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Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru and Simon Evans in Manchester; Editing by Mark Potter, Clare Fallon and Hugh Lawson

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