Charities criticise delay to release £2.5bn Chelsea FC sale funds two years since pledge

12 Jun 2024 News

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Charities have criticised inaction and a lack of transparency over the delivery of £2.5bn generated from the sale of Chelsea football club and urged the next government to release the funds for charitable purposes. 

In March 2022, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich announced that he was selling the club after being sanctioned by the UK government, and pledged to donate the proceeds to a new foundation set up to help victims of the war in Ukraine.  

But more than two years later, the money, which could create the second wealthiest charity in Britain, remains frozen in a UK bank account. 

A UK government spokesperson told Civil Society that it was “working hard to reach an arrangement that delivers this money to humanitarian causes in Ukraine as quickly as possible”.

Meanwhile, the Charity Commission confirmed that it has still not received an application for the creation of the independent foundation.

Think tank New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) said that it was “pretty hard to understand” what is causing the delay and that the public deserves to know why and who is holding up the process.

International development charities also criticised the delay and urged the next government to oversee the release of the funds.

Government: ‘It’s mired in legal and technical difficulties’

In a parliamentary debate last month, former Labour MP Chris Bryant asked the government why Ukraine had still not received the proceeds from the sale of Chelsea FC.

Deputy foreign minister Andrew Mitchell said in response that Bryant’s question reflected “the immense frustration that many of us have felt over the last year in trying to get the fund up and running”. 

“The foreign secretary is absolutely determined that we will do so,” Mitchell said. 

“It will be the second largest charity in Britain after Wellcome. 

“Every sinew is being bent to get it to operate. It’s mired in legal and technical difficulties, but the honourable gentleman has my personal assurance that we’re doing everything to try to ensure the money is used to good effect.”

Regulator yet to receive an application 

A spokesperson for the Charity Commission told Civil Society that it is yet to receive an application for the creation of the independent foundation. 

“The Charity Commission has given advice to support the establishment of the independent foundation intended to receive the proceeds of sale from Chelsea FC which are currently subject to financial sanctions. 

“The Commission’s role as regulator is to ensure that organisations entered onto the register of charities meet the legal definition of a charity and that trustees comply with their legal duties. 

“When an application is received, it’ll be assessed against the legal framework for charitable status.”

‘Complete lack of transparency’

NPC’s chief executive Dan Corry told Civil Society it was “pretty hard to understand” why it is taking so long to turn the money into a charitable fund “to support victims of the terrible war in Ukraine”. 

“There may be good reasons but there is a complete lack of transparency and information, so everyone has to keep guessing.

“The minister recently said that ‘it’s mired in legal and technical difficulties’ but the public deserves to know what they are and who is holding up the process.”

Next government urged to oversee release of funds

Alison Griffin, head of conflict and humanitarian campaigns at Save the Children, told Civil Society: “The next government has an opportunity to oversee the release of one of the largest humanitarian funds in history – freeing up billions to support the victims of the war in Ukraine.

“The money should be made available to victims of the war both inside and outside Ukraine’s borders. 

“This will ensure it can be used to support the 14.6 million people, including 2.9 million children, who need urgent humanitarian assistance in Ukraine, as well as the 6.3 million people who have been forced to flee across its borders.”

Selena Victor, senior director of policy and advocacy for Europe at Mercy Corps, told Civil Society: “It’s deeply disappointing that this money is still languishing in frozen funds when it could be doing so much more to help the millions of people in desperate need in Ukraine. 

“Almost half the population is reliant on humanitarian aid, and nearly 10 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Daily life for millions remains a constant struggle.”

Judith Escribano, deputy director of communications at Action Against Hunger UK, told Civil Society: “In Ukraine, the latest Russian offensive in the Kharkiv region has exacerbated an already dire situation, displacing thousands and increasing the urgency for aid.

“Now, after two years of relentless conflict, 40% of Ukraine's population is in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

“With £2.4bn required for humanitarian aid in Ukraine, according to the United Nations, and only 21% of the appeal funded, it’s imperative that the next UK government prioritises breaking the impasse that has prevented the frozen funds from being released.

“This will significantly help alleviate the worsening humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, as well as in African and Middle Eastern countries that are suffering from high global prices.”

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