Chelsea sale foundation could ‘change the face of humanitarian aid’, says former Unicef chief

Former UNICEF UK executive director Mike Penrose believes a foundation set up with the £2.5billion proceeds from Chelsea’s sale could “change the face of humanitarian aid”.

Penrose has been tasked with forming the new independent foundation to which owner Roman Abramovich wants to donate all proceeds from the Blues’ sale.

Former Soccer Aid and Save The Children humanitarian chief Penrose has submitted a “scoping document” to the UK Government, outlining plans for “the world’s biggest humanitarian or conflict-affected charity”.

The UK Government is understood to continue to hold reservations on Abramovich’s aims to set up the independent foundation, that would first benefit victims of the war in Ukraine.

But Abramovich remains unfazed by the latest Government issues, with a source close to the Chelsea owner telling the PA news agency: “We are not concerned about the situation, and are still confident in the sale.

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“There has never been any intention for Roman Abramovich to benefit from these funds.”

Penrose insisted he has never had direct contact with Abramovich, and revealed legal undertakings to ensure neither Chelsea nor the Blues’ current owner could ever benefit from the funds intended for the foundation.

US magnate Todd Boehly has struck a £4.25billion deal to buy the London club, but the sale must be complete by May 31 when Chelsea’s temporary Government trading licence expires.

“The only thing between this becoming a reality and now, is politics,” Penrose told PA.

“I have absolutely no interest in the politics of the sale. I have no interest in the politics of the Government. If politics gets in the way, then that is to me almost criminal, it really is.

“I’ve written into the document that’s gone to the Government that no-one who has ever been associated with the club, associated with the owner, can or will ever receive financial benefit.

“And that would go into the articles of association of the foundation. That’s written into the document that’s now in the hands of the Government.

“I’ve written an overview, a scoping document on the foundation, on what we want to achieve, and an initial budget to set the thing up, and get it running and allocating money.

“I’d like to say I was confident, but I’m nervous about the politics of it all.

“I’ve spent my entire life in humanitarian aid, and I’m very worried that what might come out of this is politics over decent humanitarian action.

“But on the other hand I also hope that this Government sees the opportunity that it has here. The UK Government could create the world’s leading humanitarian foundation.

“And I’m prepared to stand up in front of any Government committee, panel, anything, and attest to the neutrality of how this is being created.

“I hope they see fit to allow it to go ahead, and I hope they allow us to get the money to the front line in Ukraine very quickly.”

He continued: “This foundation could change the face of humanitarian aid. It would be the world’s biggest humanitarian or conflict-affected charity.

“The person I have to be the chair is a former UN chief, one of the most respected humanitarians on the planet. And the people to govern the money are world leaders.

“To manage the money that’s coming out, I have one of the world’s leading law firms, and I’m contacting some of the best fund managers on the planet.

“So this wouldn’t just have impact today or tomorrow – this could have impact for decades. This could be game-changing.”

Russian-Israeli billionaire Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale on March 2, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The 55-year-old was then sanctioned by the UK Government on March 10, with Downing Street claiming to have proven his links to Vladimir Putin.

Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Boehly has won the race to buy the Blues, and is now only Premier League and Government approval away from ending Abramovich’s 19-year tenure at Stamford Bridge.

Penrose is currently in Dnipro in Ukraine, helping train local emergency services in how to respond to chemical attacks.

The 49-year-old has worked in more than 60 humanitarian crises in a 28-year career, even being taken hostage in the Chechen war.

“I’m seeing a huge amount of casualties coming back from the front line,” Penrose said. “The longer politics are played, the longer the suffering in Ukraine.

“I was in Kharkhiv two days ago and in the next days I’m going down to Zaporizhzhia.

“A charity asked me to come out and help set up medical support and training for the local emergency services.

“The local hospital down the road from me took in nearly 90 critically injured people (on Sunday night), and they have 100 people on ventilators. This is why we need the money out here quickly.

“If the Government chooses to do this, it could be enormous.

“I was contacted by (Chelsea chairman) Bruce Buck and given a very clear brief to set up a foundation for the victims of conflict using the proceeds from the Chelsea sale.

“Money from the sale would go into an account managed by one of the world’s leading law firms, completely independent of Chelsea and Roman Abramovich.

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“That firm and me would have to validate any money being spent.

“If they give us the green light in the next few days, we can have the foundation set up in a couple of months and have money on the ground in hours or days after that.”

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