Roman Abramovich: The billionaire whose future is tied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Abramovich has been sanctioned by the UK government and is in the process of selling Chelsea football club. He has also appeared at peace talks in Turkey and is said to have suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning after a meeting earlier this month, writes Sean O’Grady

Saturday 02 April 2022 14:57
<p>Roman Abramovich in 2021 </p>

Roman Abramovich in 2021

Had things been a little different for Roman Arkadyevich Abramovich he might now still be a rubber duck salesman. That’s not some exotic euphemism, by the way. The multi-billionaire ($8bn, give or take a sanctioned football club) made his first modest pile by trading the jolly little plastic bathtime toys as a young man in the then Soviet Union, a place where very little in the way of entrepreneurship was permitted. The commanding heights of the Soviet economy were firmly in the hands of the Marxist-Leninist state, and comical rubber ducks waddled under the threshold for permitted private enterprise, probably, but even if they didn’t Abramovich would have found ways to float his particular enterprise – as indeed he has throughout his career.

In his twenties, and notwithstanding the inconvenience of compulsory service in the Red Army (a conscript just like some of those currently in Ukraine), he graduated from selling ducks and other plastic novelties from his flat in Moscow.

Funded by a gift of 2,000 roubles from his fiancée’s parents when he married his first wife, Olga, in 1987, he moved into the more lucrative trade in western perfumes and deodorants. Actually, a few years later, in around 1992, the 25-year old Abramovich acquired the fragrance of diesel about him, over an allegation that a rail consignment of tanks of diesel fuel was "emptied and appropriated" using falsified documents. Abramovich was arrested, but later released and never charged and has denied any accusation of falsifying documents.

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