Richest Czech Seen Eyeing Chelsea Stake as Abramovich Mulls Sale

(Bloomberg) -- Petr Kellner, the richest Czech and the owner of investment company PPF Group, is considering buying a stake in Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea Football Club, the Lidove Noviny newspaper reported.

Abramovich, known for his close relations to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, is mulling a full or a partial exit from Chelsea after the U.K. government didn’t renew his visa this year. That followed an escalation of diplomatic crisis between London and Moscow after accusations that Russia used a deadly nerve agent to kill a former spy on British soil.

"I won’t be able to engage," Marina Granovskaia, Chelsea Football Club director, said when asked about the Czech newspaper report, which didn’t identify its sources. PPF Group spokeswoman Zuzana Migdalova said the company doesn’t comment on speculation.

Abramovich built his fortune from the sale of privatized assets acquired from the former Soviet Union, including Sibneft and Aeroflot. He’s worth an estimated $14.8 billion, based in part on his ownership in steelmaker Evraz and Norilsk Nickel.

Kellner also began accruing wealth during the sale of state companies following the fall of Communism in the former Czechoslovakia. His main investments are now in the telecom and financial industries, and his PPF held assets exceeding 38 billion euros ($43 billion) at the end of last year. It controls telecom provider O2 Czech as well as operators in several other east European states, while its consumer-loan company Home Credit is active in 10 countries, with Russia and China being the biggest markets.

Abramovich, who bought Chelsea out of near-bankruptcy in 2003 for £140 million (about $223 million at the time), has already rejected bids for the club in excess of $2.3 billion --which would be a world-record price for a sports team -- according to people familiar with the talks. Earlier this year, the billionaire hired Raine Group LLC, a merchant bank in New York, to advise on the possibility of a full or partial sale of the club.

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