FSA inquiry into Chelsea sparked by FBI charges

Football club's new owner Abramovich nets millions from surprise oil company payout in Russia
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The Independent Online

The UK regulatory inquiry into the ownership of Chelsea Village was in part sparked off by an FBI investigation into the former Chelsea director Stanley Tollman, it emerged yesterday.

It is understood that, following an indictment of criminal charges laid against Mr Tollman last year, the authorities in Guernsey came under heavy pressure from the Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate his assets on the island, which is a dependency of the British Crown. Mr Tollman is wanted in the US over multi-million pound fraud charges.

The emergence of the FBI's role in the launch of the inquiry by the Financial Services Authority came as Chelsea's new owner, the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, yesterday extracted hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends from Sibneft, the Russian oil company he controls. Sibneft declared an interim dividend pay-out of $1bn (£620m) - a record for the country. Mr Abramovich, who agreed to buy Chelsea Village for £150m earlier this month, is thought to own at least 60 per cent of the oil company.

The FBI's search for Mr Tollman's assets led to a number of companies registered in Guernsey. There is speculation these included Swan Management, a company that housed a 26 per cent shareholding in Chelsea Village, which owns Chelsea Football Club.

Swan was managed by Patrick Murrin, a Chelsea director and long-term business associate of Ken Bates, Chelsea Village's chairmanprior to the recent deal. Mr Murrin, a well-known accountant in Guernsey, also managed Harbour Trustees, which, it has been suggested, operated a trust for Mr Bates. Mr Murrin's office yesterday said he was away and so unable to comment.

Peter Neville, the director-general of the Guernsey Financial Commission, told The Independent that both Swan and Harbour are under investigation by his organisation. He added that he was "aware of the FBI's interest in Mr Tollman" but declined to say whether Guernsey had been contacted by US officials over Mr Tollman. It is thought the Guernsey regulator provided the information to the UK's FSA that led to an investigation being launched this week into the "true ownership" of Chelsea, though Mr Neville said he could not confirm or deny this.

Mr Neville said: "We started an investigation into certain matters relating to Harbour Trustees towards the end of last year. Swan Management is part of the issues being looked at." He also said that Swan was being treated as "managed by Harbour within the scope of the investigation". In June last year, Swan sold its entire Chelsea holding, with almost half going to Mr Bates and the rest apparently to five offshore trusts.

Mr Abramovich acquired 50.1 per cent of Chelsea Village the day his takeover bid was tabled after Mr Bates and the five offshore trusts all accepted his 35p-a-share offer. Mr Abramovich, made it a condition of his bid that he be guaranteed control of the company before launching an offer. The Guernsey authorities are also investigating a complaint from a London solicitor, Neil Jacobsen, that Harbour Trustees was used to pay money to Chelsea's lawyer Mark Taylor that was partly owed to him. Jacobsens, his firm, used to employ Mr Taylor and was once Chelsea's corporate lawyers.

Mr Jacobsen contacted the Guernsey Financial Commission last year, though he said he has since heard nothing further from the regulator. Mr Neville said Mr Jacobsen's complaint was being "taken very seriously".