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Who is Hansjörg Wyss, the Swiss billionaire in line to buy Chelsea FC?

According to media reports, Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss is set to buy Chelsea FC, with the club put up for sale as a likely consequence of sanctions on Russia. But who is he - and is the sale likely to happen?

Chelsea's home ground at Stamford Bridge. By Vespa125125CFC at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Chelsea's home ground at Stamford Bridge. By Vespa125125CFC at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Ukraine conflict and Russian sanctions have forced Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s hand, with the Russian billionaire announcing he is set to sell the club he has owned for two decades. 

The motivation for the deal has been intensely debated, with some arguing Abramovich is looking to protect his best-known asset from Russian sanctions, the identity of a prospective buyer has emerged: Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss. 

Wyss told the media on Tuesday he’d been sounded out about a potential purchase, telling Swiss tabloid Blick “like all the other oligarchs, he is panicked. Abramovich is currently trying to sell all his villas in England. He also wants to get rid of Chelsea quickly.”

Who is Hansjörg Wyss and how did he make his billions? 

Wyss, 86, was born in Bern in 1935 and later moved to Zurich where he studied at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. 

He came from relatively modest beginnings, with his father a calculator salesman and his mother a writer. His sister, Hedi Wyss, is also a writer. 

Wyss later relocated to the United States, where he has lived since the 1960s. 

German magazine Welt notes he spent much of his life “as a phantom”, rarely giving interviews and living incognito on a large property in the US state of Wyoming. 

Like many billionaires Wyss has several sources of income, although his main money spinner was the medical device company Synthes. 

Wyss founded Synthes in the 1970s and oversaw its growth, before selling it for approximately CHF20 billion to pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson in 2012. 

How much money does Wyss have and can he afford Chelsea?

Despite his significant income, Wyss’ net worth is estimated at ‘only’ CHF5.3 billion as at 2022. 

Wyss has donated hundreds of millions of francs over the years to a variety of causes, including climate and conservation initiatives, while he also makes significant contributions to universities like Harvard and Cambridge. 

Forbes magazine described Wyss as “one of the most philanthropic people in the world”. 

While that might sound like an awful lot of money, it is unlikely Wyss can afford Chelsea on his own. 

While Abramovich bought Chelsea for roughly CHF180 million in 2003, the club has been valued as high as CHF4.9 billion. 

Given the amount of money necessary to keep a club running – Abramovic is believed to have invested CHF1.8 billion into the club over the years – it is clear that Wyss would be unable to purchase the club on his own. 

Wyss has admitted as much, with the Bernese telling Blick he has asked Abramovich to lower the asking price. 

“We do not yet know the exact sale price. I can very well imagine myself joining Chelsea with partners. First I have to look carefully at the conditions. 

“I certainly wouldn’t do such a thing alone. If I buy Chelsea, it will be with a consortium of six to seven investors.”

While the exact identity of the others remains unclear at this point, Blick reports Todd Boehly, owner of baseball side the LA Dodgers is likely to be one member of the ownership consortium. 

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UKRAINE

Switzerland extends sanctions against Russia over Ukraine invasion

Switzerland has implemented its sixth set of sanctions against Russia, which are primarily targeted at oil imports.

Switzerland extends sanctions against Russia over Ukraine invasion

The measures, decided by the EU on June 3rd, came into force in Switzerland at 6 pm on Wednesday, the Federal Council announced.

They include an embargo on crude oil and certain refined petroleum products from Russia.

“Similar to the measures applicable in the EU, the purchase, import, transit and transport to or within Switzerland are prohibited”, the government said.  

“In addition, the embargo provides for a ban on the provision of services, including insurance or reinsurance, in connection with the transport of oil and certain Russian petroleum products”.  

The provision of services such as accounting, public relations and business consultancy to the Russian government is now also banned, in addition to advertising content produced or broadcast by official Russian media such as Russia Today or Sputnik.

Swiss government under fire for Ukraine action

The Swiss government has faced criticism on both sides for its actions after the Ukraine invasion. 

Initially, the government faced criticism both domestically and abroad for putting in place the sanctions, which some said amounted to an erosion of the long-standing principle of neutrality. 

Sanctions on Russia: Is Switzerland still a neutral nation?

When the announcement was made, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis acknowledged that while the step was “unique” Switzerland was not abandoning its “untouchable” commitment to neutrality, countering that “playing into the hands of an aggressor is not neutral.”

More recently, the government has come under fire for blocking arms deliveries to Ukraine made by other countries. 

Several European nations have been blocked from delivering arms to the front lines of the conflict, for instance where they contain ammunition which is manufactured in Switzerland

This is due to Switzerland’s commitment to neutrality. While political alliances can be made – which includes the imposition of sanctions such as those levied against Russia – providing military assistance is prohibited, even where this is done so indirectly. 

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