From poor orphan to billionaire oligarch: how Abramovich made his cash

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Roman Abramovich’s journey from an impoverished, orphaned childhood to Chelsea-owning billionaire was solid within the chaotic transformation of Russia itself, within the years after the iron curtain fell.

His elevation into an oligarch is unusually effectively documented, chronicled in painstaking element in an English high court judgment of Lady Justice Gloster in 2012, when Abramovich succeeded in defending a lawsuit introduced by his former mentor, Boris Berezovsky.

In the case, each males described their careers, and routes to becoming billionaires, as “a uniquely Russian story”.

Roman Abramovich (far left) as a young man, with school friends in Moscow.
Abramovich (far left) as a younger man, with schoolfriends in Moscow. Photograph: east2west information

Early Life and profession

Born in 1966, Abramovich misplaced each his dad and mom by the point he was three, and he was introduced up by family members within the Komi republic, in Russia’s freezing north. After a quick interval within the military, he studied as an engineer, and labored first as a mechanic.

In Russia’s perestroika interval, when financial liberalisation allowed for small companies, Abramovich ran a youngsters’s toy producer, famously promoting plastic geese from his Moscow residence.

Abramovich marrying his first wife, Olga, in Moscow in 1987.
Abramovich marrying his first spouse, Olga, in Moscow in 1987. Photograph: east2west information

After communism fell, he labored his means up in buying and selling and transportation of oil and different industrial merchandise. The court docket judgment information that on the time of his first, transformational assembly with Berezovsky, on a Caribbean cruise in December 1994, Abramovich was “a moderately successful businessman”.

Creation of Sibneft

The creation of the huge state oil concern Sibneft, whose formation and sale to Abramovich made his fortune, was an thought he conceived and prompt to Berezovsky, the court docket judgment famous.

Already wealthy from his dealings within the automotive sector, and politically linked, Berezovsky was the perfect enterprise companion for Abramovich. Obsessed with opposing any prospect of Russia returning to communism, Berezovsky proposed Abramovich’s thought to the then president, Boris Yeltsin: merging a crude oil producer with a refinery, and handing management of the enlarged enterprise to Abramovich and Berezovsky. In alternate, Berezovsky would use revenues from the brand new oil firm to fund a TV station, ORT, to broadcast pro-Yeltsin propaganda.

Yeltsin created Sibneft by decree in August 1995, when Abramovich was nonetheless solely 29. Then, the judgment information, the brand new large oil concern was offered to Abramovich in a collection of auctions whose value in some circumstances is acknowledged to have been rigged, with different bidders discouraged by varied means. Abramovich purchased 90% of Sibneft for about $240m, utilizing solely $18.8m of his personal capital, though Gloster stated it was “possibly more”.

Entrepreneur Roman Abramovich during a trip to the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug in 1999
Abramovich throughout a visit to the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug in 1999. Photograph: Sipa US/Alamy

The judgment states that it was Abramovich’s personal case that he had a deal to pay Berezovsky for political affect, that this deal was “corrupt”, and that Berezovsky’s political lobbying actions have been “inherently corrupt”.

Abramovich’s barrister, Jonathan Sumption QC, “accepted that Mr Abramovich was privy to that corruption, but submitted that the reality was that that was how business was done in Russia in those times”.

Vladimir Putin meets Abramovich in the Kremlin in May 2005.
Vladimir Putin meets Abramovich within the Kremlin in May 2005. Photograph: Reuters

‘Good relations’ with Putin

The court docket judgment additionally famous that Abramovich had “good relations” with Vladimir Putin, Yeltsin’s successor, and in contrast to Berezovsky and different oligarchs who fell out with the brand new president, Abramovich continued to flourish.

According to the judgment he made one other fortune from the acquisition of corporations in Russia’s aluminium trade, and in 2003 he offered a 25% stake within the RusAl aluminium firm to a different oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, for $1.9bn. He offered an extra 25% for $540m.

Abramovich emerged from this brutal setting, described within the court docket case as “the wild east”, to world fame and celeb when he purchased Chelsea in 2003.

He and his administration staff, a few of whom have remained trusted associates all through, improved Sibneft and modernised its operations. Then in 2005, Gazprom, the large gas firm majority-owned by the Russian state, bought his then 72% stake, paying £7.4bn.


The billions Abramovich produced from Russia’s privatisations funded his famously lavish way of life: grand homes, non-public jets, yachts and quick automobiles, the £1.5bn he pumped into Chelsea, and a portfolio of additional investments.

The most public is a 29% stake in Evraz, a London Stock Exchange-listed industrial conglomerate with metal manufacturing crops in Russia, the US and Canada, which had revenues of $14bn in 2021. The UK authorities cited Evraz as a cause for focusing on Abramovich with sanctions, together with its evaluation that he had “a close relationship for decades” with Putin.

Evraz was accused of offering companies or items to the Russian state, “which includes potentially supplying steel to the Russian military which may have been used in the production of tanks”. The firm denied that, saying it “supplies long steel to infrastructure and construction sectors only”.

The worth of Evraz – £12bn in 2021 – has plummeted 86%, and buying and selling in its shares was suspended after sanctions have been imposed on Abramovich.

The oligarch has beforehand vehemently disputed reports suggesting his alleged closeness to Putin and Russia, or that he has accomplished something to benefit sanctions being imposed towards him.

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David Conn

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