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Football: UEFA to probe Roman empire.

Byline: MARTIN LIPTON in Monaco

CHELSEA face being kicked out of the Champions League as UEFA last night launched an urgent probe into Roman Abramovich's finances.

The Londoners were paired with CSKA Moscow in the group stage and UEFA fear he is too closely linked with the Russian club.

Abramovich would have to choose between Chelsea and CSKA's Champions League participation if he is found to own more than 51 per cent.

As well as a clash with the team sponsored by Abramovich's oil company Sibneft, the draw hands new Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho the chance to go back to Porto, the club he guided to a stunning triumph last May.

They will also face Paris St Germain.

But it was the Moscow link that forced UEFA bosses to start up an immediate investigation into whether Abramovich's interests in the Russian club were stronger than he claims.

Sibneft announced a pounds 30million sponsorship deal with CSKA in March.

And the Chelsea owner visited the dressing room to congratulate the players after the 1-1 draw with Rangers on Wednesday that secured their passage to the group phase. Abramovich, said to have offered the players a pounds 50,000 bonus for eliminating Rangers, is a close friend of CSKA president Yevgeny Giner and it has been rumoured the Stamford Bridge czar in effect owns of the Moscow club too.

As soon as the draw paired the two clubs, UEFA were alarmed and with an initial inquiry not able to clear the matter up, a full investigation has now started.

UEFA chief spokesman William Gaillard said: "We're going to look into this and see if Mr Abramovich has a controlling interest in two clubs in the same group.

"We may already have the facts to dismiss it as a problem but it has to be looked into thoroughly.

"If we find that any person owned more than 51 per cent of two clubs that person would have to decide which club wouldn't take part in the competition. That's under EU law."

Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon dismissed the allegations as groundless.

He said: "Let's knock this on the head straightaway - there's no conflict of interest. Roman's company is the sponsor and that's where it starts and finishes."

Although UEFA are likely to clear Abramovich of a conflict, it holds out a flickering lifeline for Rangers, who would presumably take CSKA's place.

Chelsea, though, will be happy with their draw as will Arsenal and Manchester United.

The Gunners begin with a home game with PSV Eindhoven before facing Norwegians Rosenborg and Panathinaikos of Greece.

United start at Lyon in Group D and play Sparta Prague and Fenerbahce.

Liverpool play Monaco, Deportivo La Coruna and Greek side Olympiakos.

CAPTION(S):

KENYON: No worries; ABRAMOVICH: Links
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 27, 2004
Words:460
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