The head coach of Chelsea Football Club, one of England’s top Premier League soccer teams — who also happens to be a Russian oligarch and besties with Putin — is one of the biggest backers of the legal US cannabis industry, according to leaked documents.
Records show Abramovich invested $130 million and gave $194 million in loans to US weed firms between 2016 and 2018, when a number of markets in the US were flipping from red to green, Vice reports.
It was uncovered that Curaleaf, who was long suspected to be funded by corrupt Russian money, was the main beneficiary of Abramovich’s millions. The company has 146 stores in 21 states around the US, and was once the largest licensed cannabis company in the world. Abramovich also invested in a weed delivery service and weed vaping companies.
Abramovich has so far not responded to reports about his heavy investment in the US weed industry. But the revelation came after a surge of 30,000 files from Cyprus-based accounting company Meritservus, of which Abramovich was a customer, was leaked onto the non-profit website Distributed Denial of Secrets in December. The records were then processed by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and analyzed by Forensics News and the financial magazine Barron’s.
Files showed Abramovich pumped $225 million into Curaleaf, then known as Palliatech, between 2015 and 2017 via a British Virgin Islands-registered company called Cetus Investments. Abramovich was allegedly referred to by Cetus staff only as “Mr. Blue.” Let it be known that Chelsea’s nickname is “the Blues.”
The oligarch has a long-standing business relationship with Curaleaf’s American chairman, Boris Jordan, a prominent investor in Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, and Andrey Blokh, its biggest shareholder, a former president of Russian oil company Sibneft. All of whom are homies with Putin.
“I've no beef with legalizing cannabis and my family has Russian roots," Bill Alpert, who investigated the story for Barron’s, told VICE World News. “But it's interesting the lengths that Abramovich went to hide his activities. His essential role at Curaleaf and other publicly-held businesses is something other investors might have wanted to know.”
The oligarch’s funding of the cannabis industry was hidden behind several trusts and offshore companies. Alpert said Abramovich’s name did not appear in any state licensing documents or company records relating to the companies he backed.
Cannabis regulators in Massachusetts, the Cannabis Control Commission, confirmed it is “aware of the allegations regarding Curaleaf” and said it has started an inquiry into whether Abramovich’s connection to Curaleaf should have been disclosed.
“Curaleaf was one of thousands of companies globally and in the U.S. that were beneficiaries of Mr. Abramovich’s financing,” In a statement sent to Barron’s, Cureleaf said. “At the time he was a much sought-after investor and a well-recognized businessman around the world. He remains unsanctioned in the United States.” The company denied Abramovich had any role in decision-making and said “he is no longer a creditor to or investor in Curaleaf."
But Curaleaf was not the only cannabis business Abramovich got behind. He funded most of the $54 million for Jordan to start another cannabis venture fund called Measure 8 in 2017. He had shareholdings in Eaze, a California-based weed delivery service; Flowhub, which makes software for weed dispensaries; CBD brand Green Gorilla; Tilt Holdings which focuses on cannabis vapes; and the now defunct Greenrush Media, which produced the video platform Toke TV. A spokesperson for Tilt Holdings said the executives involved in the Abramovich investment were no longer working there, while Eaze said it was never aware Abramovich owned Cetus Investments.
“Enriching Russian oligarchs and kleptocrats close to Putin is certainly not what health and social justice campaigners have spent years advocating for,” Rolles told VICE World News. Despite being so widely sanctioned for his close links to Putin, Abramovich has consistently denied such an association.
“The fact Russian oligarchs like Abramovich have been so central to the burgeoning industry, seemingly under the radar until now, is a depressing reflection of the lack of scrutiny and oversight. Some elements of the emerging legal cannabis markets have felt like a new wild west for speculative capital. It raises questions about who else may have a finger in the pie, and lessons for jurisdictions in Europe and elsewhere in the process of legalizing.
“The Abramovich cannabis cash situation is particularly odd given Russia's very vocal and hawkish drug war posturing on the international stage, vigorously condemning cannabis legalization on the UN stage and trying to use it as geopolitical leverage against reforming states, particularly the US and Canada. It seems unlikely that Putin's people were unaware of the investments given their scale.”
There is no evidence in the leaked files to suggest that Putin was aware or involved in Abramovich’s weed investments.