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A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York on Dec. 13, 2021.

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York on Dec. 13, 2021. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

Roman Abramovich has for years ignored attempts to buy his Chelsea Football Club, even as the U.K. made it hard for him to visit London to watch the team.

Now, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he will sell the club -- though his advisers want at least 3 billion pounds ($4 billion).

In the world of the ultra-rich, phones are lighting up and Zoom calls are being initiated about possibly purchasing assets at risk from sanctions at potentially bargain levels. Opportunistic investors and real estate agents are asking: Who’s selling, and at what price?

One call came from the U.K. staff of HIG Capital, a Miami-based private equity firm owned by billionaires Sami Mnaymneh and Tony Tamer, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Another firm circling is Optimus Capital, a London-based asset manager that works with wealthy individuals and family offices, said the person, who asked not to be identified as the information isn’t public. Representatives for HIG and Optimus didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The inquiries, coming as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is barely a week old, highlight the fast-moving nature of a geopolitical crisis that has seen Vladimir Putin’s country choked off from the global financial system and erased almost $90 billion from the fortunes of Russia’s wealthiest elites.

Russia’s central bank closed stock trading on the Moscow exchange for the third-straight day on Wednesday, the longest since the country’s 1998 crisis. The London Stock Exchange has also suspended dozens of Russian depositary receipts after the Dow Jones Russia GDR Index tumbled 98% in two weeks.

Yet the assets facing the sharpest scrutiny from government leaders are the real estate, private jets and superyachts controlled by Russia’s oligarchs. French customs officials have already blocked a giant boat owned by Rosneft Chief Executive Officer Igor Sechin from leaving port.

The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday announced details of a “KleptoCapture” task force to enforce sanctions and export restrictions and seize those kinds of luxury assets, following a similar move from the U.K.

“We’re coming for your yacht. We’re coming for your jet. We’re coming for your ledger. That’s the key message,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in an interview Wednesday with Emily Chang on “Bloomberg Technology.”

The U.K. has become a hot spot for rich Russians in recent years, with many lured to the English capital for its abundance of luxury real estate as well as the city’s private hospitals and schools. Popular areas include Eaton Square in Belgravia -- sometimes called “Red Square” -- and St. George’s Hill in Surrey, where most homes are priced at more than 10 million pounds.

But now some Russian owners of London real estate are struggling to refinance their expiring mortgages, according to a person familiar with the matter. Banks are concerned about their exposure to Russian individuals and are refusing to lend, forcing the property holders to consider selling, said the person, who asked not to be identified, citing confidentiality agreements.

Abramovich, who hasn’t been sanctioned by the U.K., is seeking to sell his London properties, British MP Chris Bryant said in Parliament. The property he was referring to is a mansion at Kensington Palace Gardens, according to a person familiar with the matter, and the flat referenced is a penthouse at Chelsea Waterfront.

As for Chelsea FC, the Russian billionaire released a statement Wednesday on the club’s website that said he would sell the team and has instructed the board to set up a charitable foundation that will receive all net proceeds from the sale.

“The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine,” Abramovich said in the statement. “Please know that this has been an incredibly difficult decision to make, and it pains me to part with the club in this manner.”

The other obvious trophies of Russia’s ultra-rich are their superyachts, the symbols of their extravagant wealth. About 7% to 10% of the global fleet is owned by Russians, according to industry watcher Superyacht Group. But they typically take several months to sell, at a minimum.

It’s unclear if Russian elites would want to part with them anyway. The four biggest luxury yachts cruising around the Maldives right now are Russian-owned, according to an analysis of vessel data by Bloomberg News. They either belong or are linked to steel magnate Victor Rashnikov, fellow steel billionaire Alexey Mordashov, aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska and banker Andrey Kostin.


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