Arsenal could be new Russian target

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The Independent Online

Vladimir Potanin, one of Russia's richest oligarchs and the country's former Deputy Prime Minister, is considering buying a large stake in Arsenal, the north London Premier League football club.

A business associate in Moscow revealed the billionaire has discussed investing up to £120m in Arsenal's new stadium development in return for a slice of the club. Arsenal is nearing its self-imposed December deadline to raise the funds for the £400m development. But earlier this month its director and largest shareholder, Danny Fiszman, admitted that the club still hadn't raised the necessary cash for the project.

Mr Potanin has yet to approach Arsenal's board or Royal Bank of Scotland, which is leading the fundraising. But one senior associate of Mr Potanin revealed that he had discussed the plan just a few weeks ago. "He talked very seriously about it - he was keen," the source said. Securing funds for the planned new 60,000-capacity stadium at Ashburton Grove is critical to Arsenal's future. The club is currently constrained by its 38,500 Highbury facility.

If Mr Potanin swoops on Arsenal he would become the second wealthy Russian to invest in a British club in just over three months, after Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea. Unlike Mr Abramovich - who considered buying Manchester United and Arsenal before plumping for Chelsea - Mr Potanin is already a fan of his prospective acquisition. It is understood he recently flew to Britain on his private jet to attend a match at Highbury.

Mr Potanin made his fortune in the mid-1990s as one of a handful of young oligarchs who bought up Russia's prized assets on the cheap, under former President Boris Yeltsin's privatisation programme.

The 42-year-old, who graduated from the élite Moscow State Institute of International Relations, took a controlling stake in oil giant Sidanco, which he later sold in 2001 for $1.1bn (£765m).

A fluent English speaker, Mr Potanin helped to bankroll President Yeltsin's troubled re-election campaign in 1996 and was later rewarded by being made Deputy Prime Minister. He is now president of Interros, a giant holding company, which accounts for 2.5 per cent of Russia's GDP. Interros has assets in mining, banking, media, property, gas and agriculture.

Under President Vladimir Putin, many of Russia's oligarchs are feeling the heat, with investigations into alleged fraud. As a result, many wealthy Russian businessmen are seeking credibility in the West. So far, Mr Potanin has done this through the arts, as a trustee of the Guggenheim Foundation in New York.

A spokesman for Mr Potanin refused to comment. A spokeswoman for Arsenal said: "We are in the process of finalising the funding. We are hoping to get the matter resolved by the end of the year. I cannot comment further."