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Friday, 17 December 2010

Roman Abramovich’s 40-strong private army

Roman Abramovich’s 40-strong private army

THE Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich has boosted his security staff to create a 40-strong “private army”, making him one of the best-protected tycoons in the world. According to security sources, the owner of Chelsea football club now has about 20 bodyguards in Britain. A similar number are employed to protect him for jaunts in his yachts, trips to Russia and stays in his overseas properties. The squad – estimated to cost about £1.2m a year – is about eight times the size of the typical security teams used by businessmen and celebrities. Abramovich, worth £10.8 billion, is said to have wanted better protection because of increasing concerns about the risk of kidnap.

Mark Skipp, a former SAS officer, oversees Abramovich’s protection and recently hired a new City security firm, Fusion. Like many of the super-rich, Abramovich, who split from his wife Irina this year, is said to enjoy the cachet of being protected by former SAS soldiers. “He loves having them around and does not mind that they charge a premium,” said a source close to the Chelsea owner.

Russian exiles have always feared that the Kremlin would try to silence them, wherever they were living and the fears are growing. The tycoon is said to have 10 bodyguards based at his home in Belgravia, London, and his country estate in Sussex. Another three are based at his Knightsbridge apartment. Outside the UK, the billionaire’s security is even tighter. In the south of France, he has a team of four armed operatives who carry 9mm Glock pistols while guarding his vast villa. Another six protect his three yachts. 

One of his yachts, the Pelorus, is fitted with bullet-proof glass and a missile detection system. If there is a threat, Abramovich can choose between a helicopter and private submarine in which to escape. It is in Russia that Abramovich probably feels most threatened. During his business trips, he uses Russian-trained troops, including serving soldiers, for protection. Boris Berezovsky, another Russian businessman living in London, survived an assassination attempt in Moscow in 1994. His car was blown up and his driver killed in the attempt on his life.

Abramovich has always been one of the best-guarded businessmen in the country. Soon after buying Chelsea in 2003, his UK company Millhouse Capital, which manages his assets, hired Kroll Security International to provide bodyguards and close protection for himself and his family. A threat assessment stated the Russian billionaire was most vulnerable after Chelsea’s matches, when his car could get caught in traffic. Although his convoy of cars is armour-plated and his drivers specially trained to deal with assassination attacks, it was recommended that he travelled by air instead. Kroll commissioned Skipp to manage the security contract and in 2004 he joined Abramovich’s private asset management company on a £200,000-a-year salary. David Beckham has three bodyguards and a martial arts specialist, while the American actress and singer Jennifer Lopez has hired former CIA and FBI agents.

The annual security budget of Eric Schmidt, the Google chief executive, is £266,000. However, Larry Ellison, the billionaire head of Oracle, the American software giant, almost matches Abramovich’s spending on security – with an annual outlay of £900,000 on gates, guns and guards. Some celebrities are seen out with a significantly bigger number of bodyguards than Abramovich, but they are often untrained. One security expert said: “50 Cent [the American rapper] has lots of really big guys with him, sometimes more than 30, but often they’re just his friends.” A spokesman for Abramovich said: “Mr Abramovich’s personal security is not something we would comment about.”

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