The already immeasurable wealth of Chelsea Football Club was potentially even greater last night after its Russian owner Roman Abramovich sold a major industrial stake in his homeland for £1.8bn.
Mr Abramovich, who bought the club two months ago, sold a 50 per cent stake in Russian Aluminium (RusAl), the world's second biggest producer of metals, according to press reports. This could boost the personal fortune of the 36-year-old tycoon to an estimated £8.2bn, confirming his status as the wealthiest man in the world under the age of 40.
The company was his last major holding in Russia, and its sale has prompted speculation that he might quit the country.
In March, Mr Abramovich sold off a 26 per cent share in the national airline Aeroflot. He is also the dominant shareholder in Sibneft, Russia's fifth largest oil company, which paid out a large dividend earlier this year. Sibneft is also in the process of selling out to Yukos, which is run by Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
It is believed that Mr Abramovich acquired his stake in RusAl from the oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who was forced into exile by President Vladimir Putin in 2000.
Analysts believed that Mr Abramovich may have been influenced by the Kremlin's recent high-profile attempts to clamp down on the super-rich oligarchs who made huge profits from privatisation deals during the 1990s. A number of billionaire businessmen, including Mr Khodorkovsky of Yukos, were questioned by police over the summer. Platon Lebedev, a senior director in the Menatep banking group, which holds a majority stake in Yukos, was also detained in July on suspicion of defrauding the Russian state of £175m.
Mr Abramovich confirmed recently that he was not standing for re-election as governor of the Chutkotka province in north-eastern Russia. He has bought property in Knightsbridge and Sussex while his children are to be sent to school in England.
Commentators observed that if it was the case that Mr Abramovich was winding up his activities in Russia, it would spark real fear among the country's business elite.
Yesterday, news of the sale of his share in RusAl emerged in Russian press reports stating that Mr Abramovich's investment vehicle Millhouse Capital has sold its 50 per cent stake in the company to Basic Element, which owns the other half of RusAl, for £1.8bn. Basic Element is controlled by another Russian tycoon, Oleg Deripaska. Neither party would comment.
Speculation that he is disposing of his assets in Russia appeared to be confirmed in separate reports yesterday. The Canadian press claimed he was linked to another sporting venture, having expressed an interest in buying the National Hockey League club, Vancouver Canucks.
Mr Abramovich acquired his fortune in Russian industries following the break up of the Soviet Union.
He became a household name in Britain overnight in July when he purchased Chelsea Football Club in a £150m takeover, which was one of the biggest deals in the history of British football.
At the time, he said: "We have the resources and ambition to achieve even more given the huge potential of this great club."
Last month, he hinted that he was considering selling some of his Russian assets. However, he dismissed rumours that he planned to pull out of the country completely.
"We are selling some things and buying other things. I don't feel like doing business outside Russia," said Mr Abramovich, who also owns an ice hockey team in Siberia.
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