Leaked documents reveal Abramovich is still connected to Vitesse

Roman Abramovich, who secretly bankrolled the Dutch football club Vitesse Arnhem while he was Chelsea owner, retains a financial connection to the club that continues to this day, leaked documents appear to show.

The arrangements, uncovered by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Guardian, raise fresh questions about Abramovich’s ongoing involvement in the Dutch club. He was subjected to UK and EU sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The findings come three weeks after Vitesse was docked a historic 18 points by the Dutch football association, condemning the club to relegation for the first time in 35 years and leaving it in financial turmoil.

The club has been under investigation by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Dutch football association (the KNVB) over its Russian ties after reporting by TBIJ and the Guardian revealed a secret network of loans connecting its two previous owners with Abramovich.

The latest documents, part of the Cyprus Confidential files shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Paper Trail Media, reveal that Abramovich was also the source of virtually all the money used to fund Vitesse by its current owner, Valery Oyf.

Who is Valery Oyf?

A longtime business associate of Abramovich, Valery Oyf was vice president of Sibneft, the Abramovich-owned oil conglomerate. He then served as a general director of Millhouse, a company managing the oligarch’s vast wealth.

Oyf acquired Vitesse in 2018 from Alexander Chigirinsky. While he holds the club’s shares directly, financing came from his offshore company, Matteson Overseas Ltd, which was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in 2006 before redomiciling to Jersey in 2020.

At the same time Oyf acquired Vitesse, Matteson entered into an agreement with Marindale Trading Ltd, the company through which Chigirinsky owned the Dutch club. Matteson agreed to take over from Marindale as the principal lender to Vitesse.

According to the agreement, Matteson acquired nearly €140m in Vitesse loan debt for just $10m. The deal essentially wrote off over €100m in debt owed to Chigirinsky, the vast majority of which he owed in turn to Abramovich. The oligarch had lent the money through a string of offshore entities in Liechtenstein, Belize and the BVI.

It is understood that the Dutch government is investigating connections between Matteson and Abramovich’s companies, including whether Oyf (in his capacity as Matteson shareholder) paid the owed sum of $10m directly to Abramovich rather than to Chigirinsky’s company.

Oyf, who has owned the club since 2018, is a longtime business associate of Abramovich and was a senior figure at the oligarch’s Russian oil giant Sibneft. However, Oyf has previously denied that any of his funding for Vitesse came from Abramovich. Both Chelsea, under Abramovich, and Vitesse have previously denied any financial connections.

Oyf owns Vitesse directly but used an offshore company called Matteson Overseas Ltd to provide the club with funding and financial guarantees. Leaked documents seen by TBIJ show that while Oyf officially owns Matteson, its funding came from Abramovich. The oligarch almost entirely bankrolled Matteson, and his employees set up and ran its day-to-day operations. Jersey-registered Matteson also shares a nominee director with several of Abramovich’s companies.

Abramovich’s companies loaned Matteson nearly $200m, which was then almost entirely invested in other entities linked to the oligarch and his asset management company, Millhouse Capital. Profits generated were used to pay off loan debt and fund further ventures, including Vitesse.

Others included various Millhouse-led projects to invest in listed companies such as Evraz and Highland Gold, mining concessions in Russia, and large-scale securities investment.

The documents stem from Meritservus, a Cyprus-based financial services company which administered much of Abramovich’s offshore network. The files show Meritservus also acted for several Oyf companies which were heavily linked to Abramovich.

The revelations raise fresh questions around Abramovich’s influence over the Dutch club, once referred to as “Chelsea B” because of the close relationship between the two clubs. During Abramovich’s tenure as Chelsea owner, his club loaned dozens of players to Vitesse including Mason Mount, Dominic Solanke, Armando Broja and Nemanja Matic.

Rules set by Uefa, the European football confederation, hold that clubs which play against each other must be independently owned and run. They state that “no individual or legal entity may have control or influence over more than one club participating in a Uefa club competition”.

Vitesse owner Valery Oyf at a Vitesse match in December 2019 ANP Sport / Getty Images

More broadly, the findings raise serious questions over Abramovich’s ability to skirt UK and EU sanctions and protect his assets with the help of associates such as Oyf.

Oyf also acted as director for Abramovich’s company Greenleas International in early 2022, during which time he greenlit the sale of billions of dollars of assets just weeks before Abramovich was sanctioned.

One of those deals included the sale of $61m shares in Russian search engine Yandex to Oyf’s own company.

Oyf has not been sanctioned. Other prominent associates of Abramovich, such as Eugene Tenenbaum, Eugene Shvidler and David Davidovich, have been sanctioned in the UK but not the EU.

Last year, TBIJ and the Guardian found Abramovich had used a complex network of offshore companies to lend at least €117m to Vitesse under its two previous owners, Merab Jordania and Alexander Chigirinsky, who are both known to be close to the oligarch.

How independent was Matteson?

Email correspondence shows Matteson was set up on the instructions of employees of Abramovich’s management company, Millhouse. Bank accounts were opened for Matteson by an employee of Millhouse, who was granted a power of attorney to manage the accounts and act as a bank signatory.

Authorisations came directly from Irina Panchenko, then finance director of Millhouse and a former member of the Russian parliament, who is regarded as one of Abramovich’s closest associates.

The company itself was administered by Meritservus, the financial advisory company which handled Abramovich’s vast offshore network. It was later redomiciled to Jersey where it was administered by the Zedra Trust Company, which worked with a number of the oligarch’s Jersey-based entities. One Zedra employee acted as a nominee director for both Matteson and several Abramovich companies.

Valery Oyf was also the beneficiary of a Cypriot trust and several BVI companies, including Alresford Holding Ltd, all established by Millhouse and administered by Meritservus.

Some of these entities had intertwining relationships. Alresford was backed by a $40m gift from an Abramovich company while Matteson relied on loans.

Invoices from Meritservus for administration work on Oyf’s companies were sent directly to Millhouse, where the companies were treated as part of the “Millhouse Group”.

Oyf, who bought Vitesse from Chigirinsky in 2018, announced his decision to sell the club in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but has not yet done so. The club has since hit dire financial straits and is at risk of having its professional licence revoked, or even bankruptcy, if a rescue plan is not agreed soon.

Earlier this year, the KNVB rejected a proposed takeover of the club by US investment outfit Common Partners, saying the company had not provided enough information about the ultimate source of its funds.

The KNVB told TBIJ that it “expects from Vitesse that it shows that it acts in accordance with the applicable rules and regulations on the EU sanctions before any transfer of shares of Vitesse will be approved.”

Valery Oyf, Roman Abramovich, and Meritservus were approached for comment for this article but did not respond. Vitesse declined to comment.

Reporters: Simon Lock and Jacob Steinberg
Enablers editor: Eleanor Rose
Impact Producer: Lucy Nash
Deputy Editor: Katie Mark
Editor: Franz Wild
Production editor: Alex Hess
Fact checker: Josephine Moulds

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