Historic points deduction for Vitesse after Abramovich investigation

The club was investigated by the Dutch football association and the government after TBIJ revealed links to the sanctioned oligarch

The Dutch football club Vitesse Arnhem has been docked 18 points – the largest such penalty in Dutch history – for repeated breaches of licensing regulations and providing incorrect information to investigating authorities.

The club was investigated by the Dutch football association (KNVB) and the government after a joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Guardian uncovered a secret network of loans linking the club to Roman Abramovich.

The points deduction confirms the club’s relegation from the top tier of Dutch football.

Last year TBIJ revealed how the oligarch, who was sanctioned by the EU in 2022, had funnelled money to Vitesse via offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, Luxembourg and Belize. At least €117m was loaned from two Abramovich-owned companies to Vitesse under the club’s two previous owners, Merab Jordania and Alexander Chigirinsky.

Vitesse was nicknamed “Chelsea B” during Abramovich’s time as Chelsea FC’s owner due to the huge number of players that were loaned to the club, including Nemanja Matić and Mason Mount.

In a statement on Friday, the KNVB said: “The level of the sanction is based on the exceptional seriousness and extent of the breaches of the licence system.”

It said Vitesse had provided incorrect information “relevant to the forensic investigation” into potential sanctions breaches, and also withheld information “relevant to the assessment of Vitesse’s continuity”.

The Dutch ministry of economic affairs is still investigating the club’s potential ties to Abramovich, who was sanctioned by the UK and the EU after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

The KNVB’s licensing committee said it could not ultimately “determine whether there are conflicting ties with Abramovich”, given the ongoing government inquiry. However, it said its own investigations showed “indications that Abramovich has or has had control over Vitesse and that there are risks of violation of sanctions and money laundering and therefore [the KNVB] considers it important to await the ministry's investigation.”

The points deduction means that Vitesse has been relegated from the Dutch top flight for the first time in 35 years. While the club has not yet had its professional licence revoked– which would essentially end its existence – it is in financial turmoil.

The current owner, Valeriy Oyf, announced he wanted to sell his shares in the club after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 but has been unable to do so. He remains the owner while the club waits for the KNVB to approve a recovery plan.

​​In a statement posted on the Vitesse website, the club said that it would not be appealing the decision, adding that it was “seizing the chance to retain its licence with both hands”.

Edwin Reijntjes, the club’s interim general director, said: “Although this is a black day for everything and everyone who cares about Vitesse, this is the harsh reality. After all, such a punishment was inevitable. On the other hand – and I really want to make this clear to everyone – we are extremely happy with the opportunity we have been given in favour of retaining our licence.”

Header image: Kacper Kozlowski of Vitesse Arnhem during a match with NEC Nijmegen at Gelredome earlier this month. Credit: NESimages/Geert van Erven/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Reporter: Simon Lock
Impact Producer: Lucy Nash
Enablers editor: Eleanor Rose
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Editor: Franz Wild
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Fact checker: Frankie Goodway

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