Despite Roman Abramovich's cancellation of a $1.3 billion plan to rebuild Chelsea's stadium, the penny has yet to drop in the UK that the Russian billionaire will cut his ties with all things English.
In the diplomatic spat between the UK and Russia, the British seem unlikely to blink and Putin is unlikely to back down with Abramovich and Chelsea caught in the middle. The British government has added insult to injury by not only refusing Abramovich a visa but letting him know that with his newly minted Israeli passport, he will not be able to work in the UK and may even be detained at the airport and deported, if he visits too many times.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the UK-Russia confrontation, Abramovich is in an untenable situation, the owner of a club that he cannot enter, and Chelsea are set to become collateral damage. To further aggravate the situation, there has been little sympathy for his plight in England where he is being portrayed as a ruthless oligarch and Putin henchman. The "Daily Mail' even compared his decision to scrap the Chelsea stadium plan to a childish tantrum.
Even Chelsea fans have not spoken up on his behalf. Married and divorced three times, Abramovich knows the emotional heartache of separation, but reluctantly he may be compelled to sever ties with the football club.
When he was in Tel Aviv last week, Abramovich may likely have spoken to his friend Pini Zahavi, the Israeli soccer mega agent who negotiated his purchase of Chelsea 15 year ago, to put out feelers for a buyer. Chelsea fans must hope a buyer more akin to Man. City's Sheikh Mansour than Arsenal's Stan Kroenke is found. Abramovich's Kensington home will also likely be sold.
The UK's loss will almost certainly be Israel's gain. Abramovich has already made major investments in the country and friends say he one day planned to live in Tel Aviv. The UK visa crisis has simply acted as a catalyst.
In 2015, Abramovich bought the Varsano boutique hotel in Tel Aviv's Neve Tzedek neighborhood for NIS 100 million from Gal Gadot's husband Yaron Varsano and his brother Guy. He is converting the hotel into his Israeli home.
The Russian Jewish billionaire has also built up a substantial high-tech startup portfolio in Israel through his investment companies, which include Norma Investments, Ervington Investments and Millhouse (all UK based). In recent days in Tel Aviv he has visited several of them including nanotech fast smartphone and car battery charger developer StoreDot. He was also at another Israeli investment social engagement platform Spot.IM, where he commissioned them to prepare a platform for Chelsea's website to assist in engaging the fans.
Abramovich was the lead investor in financing rounds for music-sharing startup Music Messenger, Israeli investment network iAngels, and online video marketing company AnyClip Media. His other Israeli portfolio companies include demand transit company Via, electronic capsule developer MelCap, diabetes treatment and management solutions company DreaMed Diabetes and pipe inspection company AcousticEye. He has also invested in AltaIR a venture capital fund focusing on early-stage Israeli start-ups investments.
His philanthropy in Israel has involved tens of millions of dollars in anonymous donations but this year, perhaps as part of a charm offensive, the contributions have been publicized and are likely to increase. Recent donations include $30 million to Tel Aviv University's Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, $20 million to the nuclear medicine center at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan and millions of dollars to the Haifa-based Yad Ezer La-Haver Foundation, which provides a warm home to needy Holocaust survivors.
Much of the investment and philanthropy Abramovich had planned for the UK is now likely to be spent in Israel. Above and beyond Abramovich's financial clout, if as the British believe he really is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, his adoption of Israeli citizenship comes at a time when Israel is courting the Russians to rein in on Iranian involvement in Syria and Lebanon. Thus Abramovich could be a diplomatic as well as a financial asset for Israel.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 5, 2018
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