An composite picture showing a football stadium with Roman Abramovich centred in the foreground

Secret Abramovich football funding set to be investigated

The Dutch football association, the KNVB, is to authorise an independent investigation into alleged financial ties between former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and top-flight club Vitesse Arnhem.

The governing body’s decision follows a joint Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Guardian investigation that uncovered a complex network of loan arrangements between the club’s holding company and a series of companies, which ultimately appeared to trace back to Abramovich.

The loan arrangements took place under the tenure of two former owners of Vitesse – Merab Jordania and Alexander Chigirinsky – both of whom had close relationships with the former Chelsea owner, who is now sanctioned in the UK and the EU.

For years, Vitesse under its former owners, and Chelsea under Abramovich, repeatedly denied the oligarch was ever involved in funding the Dutch club. Throughout, the two clubs enjoyed strong ties, with Chelsea loaning dozens of its junior players to Vitesse.

In March, in response to the investigation, Jordania said that during his tenure at Vitesse he was loaned money by friends, including Abramovich and Chigrinsky, but the loans were to him personally rather than Vitesse. Neither Abramovich nor Chigrinsky responded to questions put to them as part of the investigation.

The latest investigation would be the third conducted into the club’s funding and ties to Abramovich, following previous inquiries by the KNVB in 2010 and 2014-15.

Unlike the previous occasions, the latest investigation could be a joint-led effort by the club and the KNVB. The club’s ownership and management has changed since the previous inquiries.

A Vitesse spokesperson said: “We have not yet received any formal information from KNVB about next steps, including a possible investigation. However, it is expected that KNVB wants this investigation to be conducted by an independent specialised company, that will probably also be appointed by KNVB.”

Earlier investigations found that Vitesse was bankrolled by a British Virgin Islands company called Marindale Trading Ltd, which belonged to Chigirinsky, but concluded that Abramovich had no managerial influence on the club.

The TBIJ and Guardian investigation, however, uncovered documents that appeared to show that Marindale Trading was not the ultimate source of the club’s money. Instead, the company was part of a chain of seemingly interlinked loans, the route of which changed over time.

The money appeared to originate from two BVI companies, Ovington Worldwide and Wotton Overseas, belonging to Cypriot trusts of which Abramovich was the sole beneficiary at the time.

Between 2010 and 2016, at least €117m appears to have passed through this network of companies, which included entities in Liechtenstein, Belize, BVI and the Netherlands.

Documents outlining the arrangements were in the Oligarch files, a cache of leaked data originating from the Cyprus-based offshore service provider MeritServus.

The KNVB told TBIJ that it had not previously been aware of these arrangements, which will be part of the new investigation.

In a statement issued shortly after the publication of the joint investigation, Vitesse itself said it had “no knowledge of the way in which [Marindale Trading] was financed”.

More recently, Vitesse confirmed that it was in talks with the KNVB about its past funding. The development came at a pivotal time for the club, which has been in months-long discussions with the KNVB’s licensing committee following its sale to US investment firm Common Group.

In the latest weekly statement on the club website, the newly appointed interim club general manager Peter Rovers said: “We look forward to the results of such an investigation with confidence. Vitesse, and also the Common Group, have nothing to hide and are in favour of transparency.”

Chelsea declined to comment.

Neither Abramovich’s spokesperson nor Chigirinsky responded to requests for comment.

Header image: Vitesse’s home ground, GelreDome, and the former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Credit: Alexander Hassenstein – Uefa/Uefa via Getty Images

Reporters: Simon Lock and Rob Davies
Deputy Editor: Franz Wild
Impact Producer: Lucy Nash
Bureau Editor: Meirion Jones
Production Editor: Emily Goddard
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