Hansjorg Wyss, one of Switzerland’s richest men, said Wednesday he had been offered the chance to buy Chelsea, with the European football champions’ Russian owner Roman Abramovich under growing scrutiny.
Wyss, 86, who founded the medical device manufacturing firm Synthes, told the Swiss newspaper Blick that he and three others had been sounded out on Tuesday.
But Wyss wants Abramovich to lower his asking price for the English Premier League side.
Abramovich revealed Saturday that he plans to place his ownership of the Blues into the “stewardship and care” of the Chelsea Foundation’s trustees.
Abramovich has not been named on a growing British sanctions list targeting Russian banks, businesses and pro-Kremlin tycoons in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
But British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been pressed on why Abramovich has not been cited, given his familiarity with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Abramovich is among Putin’s closest advisers and friends,” Wyss told Blick.
“Like all the other oligarchs, he is panicked. Abramovich is currently trying to sell all his villas in England. He also wants to get rid of Chelsea quickly. Along with three other people, I received an offer on Tuesday to buy Chelsea from Abramovich.
“I have to wait four or five days. Abramovich is asking too much right now. Chelsea owes him £2 billion ($2.7 billion, 2.4 billion euros). But Chelsea has no money. This means that those who buy Chelsea must compensate Abramovich.
“We do not yet know the exact sale price. I can very well imagine myself joining Chelsea with partners. First I have to look carefully at the conditions.
“I certainly wouldn’t do such a thing alone. If I buy Chelsea, it will be with a consortium of six to seven investors.”
Silence at Stamford Bridge
Contacted in London, Chelsea refused to comment, while a spokeswoman for Abramovich did not immediately respond.
Chelsea defeated Brazil’s Palmeiras 2-1 in the Club World Cup final in Abu Dhabi last month, meaning the Blues have now won every possible trophy since Abramovich bought the west London side in 2003.
Johnson was asked in Warsaw on Tuesday why Abramovich has not been personally sanctioned by Britain, as several UK lawmakers have demanded.
In response, Johnson did not mention the Chelsea owner, but said Britain would be “tightening the economic noose” further around the Russian regime.
In parliament on Tuesday, opposition Labour lawmaker Chris Bryant said Abramovich seemed “terrified of being sanctioned, which is why he’s already going to sell his home”.
Wyss praised the West’s “excellent approach” in imposing sanctions on Russian interests.
“The fact that the Russian oligarchs are targeted by the Americans and Europeans is absolutely essential, because they may have an influence on Putin,” he told Blick.
Medical devices fortune
Forbes magazine’s 2021 annual list of the world’s dollar billionaires put Wyss in 451st place, with a fortune of $6 billion.
The Harvard Business School graduate was the chairman and president of Synthes, one of the world’s major manufacturers of instruments and implants to mend bone fractures.
In 2012, Synthes was bought by US healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson. It now forms part of J&J’s DePuy division, with the acquisition creating one of the world’s largest orthopaedic and neurological businesses.
Wyss is also a well-known philanthropist, with his charitable foundation worth over $2 billion.
In 2018, he pledged to donate $1 billion to conservation programmes.
Stephen Taylor Heath, head of sports law at Manchester-based lawyers JMW Solicitors, said it was understood that Abramovich controls the corporate entities that own Chelsea rather than the club directly.
“Any would-be buyer would need to undertake due diligence which would establish the ownership structure and any issues with the club. And so a very quick immediate sale would be very difficult in practice,” he said.