When you are Russia’s richest
businessman (more than US$14 billion) and highest profile oligarch not
in jail, do you take your money and run or continue to work to keep in
the good books of President Vladimir Putin and cut a deal to share the

That seems to be the choice now facing controversial
Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, who is supposed to be the hands-on
governor of Russia’s remote eastern Chukotka region since being
appointed for an initial five-year term in 2000.

Now he is up
for re-nomination for another five years, and while there’s plenty of
speculation that he’s had his fill with the job and looking to
ultimately sell up and move to the UK, that’s far easier said than done
if Putin tells him he’s not going anywhere. Or at least not with all
his ill-gotten gains originally stripped from the state’s piggy bank!

former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called upon the country’s
billionaire oligarchs to return their “plundered” wealth or risk the
consequences. Gorbachev made reference to huge investments in the
“motherland of soccer,” that were squarely aimed at Abramovich who,
already sniffing the changing winds of fortune, can’t afford to ignore
the way Russia’s former richest man, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky,
was jailed for nine years last week for tax fraud and embezzlement and
had his former business empire repatriated by Putin.

Yet according to today’s Daily Telegraph
in London, Abramovich remains in Putin’s good books. Recently Putin and
Abramovich met to discuss the progress of his governorship of Chukotka,
with Putin expressing satisfaction in his performance in the job. So
now the heat is on Abramovich to take on another five-year term which
would then conveniently make him immune from any criminal prosecution.
But it would also keep him bound to his homeland, and thus allow Putin
an orderly chance to return more of the Abramovich spoils to state
coffers. That’s now seen as essential without the kind of damaging
fallout from very publicly stripping Khodorkovsky of his billions.

Scotland’s Sunday Herald
has also noted how Abramovich is coming under “severe and very public
Kremlin pressure to continue ploughing some of his vast wealth into his
native Russia and to remain in political office there.” The paper said
the pressure from Putin “comes amid signs that Abramovich is seeking to
stealthily unwind his political and business interests in Russia as
part of an ongoing strategy to move the entirety of his wealth to a
more stable jurisdiction such as the UK.”