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Russian football club under US sanctions operates through UK

An elite Russian football club under US sanctions is partly controlled through a British company, SourceMaterial can reveal.

A 22 per cent stake in CSKA Moscow, until 2012 the Russian Army’s official football team and chaired by Vladimir Putin’s personal advisor Maxim Oreshkin, is held by Bluecastle Enterprises Limited—which is based in London and has not been placed under any sanctions.

The remainder of CSKA is held by VEB, a Russian state development bank sanctioned last week by the US, which also imposed sanctions on the football club’s Russian holding company. 

But while the British government also froze VEB assets last week, it has so far imposed no measures on Bluecastle, controlled through offshore entities by CSKA club president Evgeny Giner. 

FIFA, world football’s governing body, and its European counterpart UEFA on 28 February banned all Russian clubs from international competitions, while UEFA has ended its sponsorship deal with Gazprom, the Russian state-owned energy company.

Bluecastle originally bought its stake in CSKA Moscow from Russia’s defence ministry in 2012, according to local reports from the time. The UK company, based in Shoreditch in East London, owned the football club outright until 2020, when VEB took a majority stake. 

Bluecastle’s most recent accounts show the company was used to pay UEFA for the club’s participation in European competitions and that it earned money from the broadcast of CSKA games in Russia and abroad. Giner has also personally borrowed $7 million from the company, the accounts show

Giner is an associate of Alexander Babakov, a senior Russian politician appointed by Putin as his special representative in 2012 and sanctioned by the EU in 2014 after supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He and Giner were partners in an energy company which they sold for $250 million in 2019.

The football club is one of several CSKA sports teams at CSKA Moscow—although BlueCastle is only linked to the football team.

CSKA clubs have received support from Rosneft. The state-owned oil company said in 2020 it was working with the ministry of defence to build a hockey stadium for the club.

Rosneft’s chief executive, Igor Sechin, a Putin ally and ex-KGB agent described as “Russia’s most powerful oligarch,” chairs the hockey club’s supervisory board. 

On 27 February, BP, the British energy giant, said it would abandon its investment in Rosneft after SourceMaterial revealed the Russian company’s role in fuelling the country’s armed forces. 


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