Roman Abramovich may pay for his billion-pound divorce with a massive war chest built up by selling off shares.
The Chelsea owner today faces paying out at least [pounds sterling]1.5 billion of his [pounds sterling]11 billion fortune after divorcing Irina, his wife of 15 years and the mother of his five children.
The announcement of the divorce, which was conducted in secret in Russia, came hours after Abramovich was photographed in Paris with Daria Zhukova – the 24-year-old model with whom he was linked last year.
However he has spent the last two or three years selling billions of pounds worth of shares in companies ranging from oil giant Sibneft to Russian Aluminium, Aeroflot and sausage maker Omsk Bacon. What he has done with the money since then is a closely guarded secret, as his investments are handled through his company Millhouse Capital, which is based in the UK but run offshore.
The divorce has fuelled recent speculation – prompted in part by the collapse of his relationship with Jose Mourinho – that he is considering selling Chelsea. His advisers have insisted, however, that it will not affect his ownership of the club.
As well as his investments, the spoils of the divorce could include Abramovich’s string of properties, among them an estate in Sussex, an extensive property portfolio in London including the family home in Belgravia, a chateau in France and a 100-acre estate near Moscow. He also owns two planes, two helicopters, five yachts and Omsk ice hockey?team.
A spokesman for the Abramoviches said in a statement: “Mr and Mrs Abramovich have divorced in Russia on a consensual basis and have agreed terms in respect of arrangements for their children and a financial settlement.
“Mr Abramovich’s corporate interests, including Chelsea Football Club, are not affected by the divorce proceedings.
“Mr and Mrs Abramovich would appreciate it if the family’s privacy would be respected.”
Despite the official denials, rumours continue to fly about the City over Abramovich’s future in Britain. A senior source at Rothschilds, the merchant bank which handled several major recent club sales, said there was an “air of uncertainty” over the club. “I wouldn’t say the sale of the club is an impossibility.”
David Mellor, former heritage secretary and Evening Standard sports columnist, said: “I have thought for some time Abramovich is ready to pack his bags.”
In October, Mrs Abramovich consulted Britain’s top?divorce lawyer Raymond Tooth after her husband and Russian socialite Miss Zhukova were photographed together on a series of occasions.
Miss Zhukova had accompanied Abramovich, 40, around the world on various trips after he took her to a Chelsea game last year.
They were then seen together in Moscow, Spain and London and photographed in?Tel Aviv.
The friendship prompted crisis talks between the Abramoviches and little was seen of Miss Zhukova for months.
But on Monday she and the billionaire were spotted in Paris.
Abramovich is the richest man in Britain and the 11th richest man in the world.
Mrs Abramovich, a former air hostess, married her husband when he barely had a penny and remained by his side as his fortune grew.
She is alleged to have sought legal advice shortly before Abramovich and Miss Zhukova were first pictured together.