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UEFA to check Chelsea, CSKA links

Roman Abramovich
Abramovich's former oil company are the main sponsors of CSKA Moscow

MONACO -- UEFA will examine Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's links with CSKA Moscow after the pair were drawn together in the first round of the Champions League.

Abramovich is behind a major sponsorship deal between CSKA and oil company Sibneft, although UEFA said a "superficial" check had suggested the Russian billionaire had no direct interest in the club.

European Union competition rules and UEFA regulations forbid an individual owning a major share of two clubs in the same competition, although there are no rules limiting sponsorship deals.

UEFA chief executive Lars-Christer Olsson said Abramovich would have to decide which team to play in the tournament if he were discovered to have a controlling interest in CSKA -- but admitted that such an outcome appeared unlikely.

"We are contacting the Russian FA for full details of who exactly owns CSKA Moscow," said Olsson.

"They could not both play. I imagine this will not be the case but if it was and one club could not take part then either we'd have a three-team group or perhaps Rangers, who lost to CSKA in the qualifiers, could come into the competition presuming it was CSKA who were pulled out.

"This is unlikely and we do not have much time because the competition starts in two weeks' time. However, that is the logical conclusion if there was a problem."

Abramovich is the former owner and major shareholder in Sibneft, which signed a $54 million shirt sponsorship deal with Russian champions CSKA in March.

A close friend of CSKA president Yevgeny Giner, he attended two CSKA matches as a VIP last season and also saw their clash with Rangers in Glasgow, Scotland, this week.

Olsson said UEFA was considering tightening the rules on sponsorship deals.

"Our licensing laws and our competition rules as well as EU laws prohibit an individual owning two clubs but we shall also look at the sponsorship issue.

"Everyone knows that sponsorship has a major effect on the management of a club and we might well have to introduce new rules on this issue."

Chelsea director of communications Simon Greenberg denied that any conflict of interests existed and said Abramovich had no say in how sponsorship money was spent by CSKA.

"Mr Abramovich is the owner of Chelsea and Sibneft, a company in which he is one of many shareholders, has a shirt sponsorship deal with CSKA Moscow," said Greenberg.

"Mr Abramovich has no equity stake nor any direct interest in CSKA Moscow."

Sibneft also said a conflict was "impossible."

"Sibneft's relations with CSKA are based on one of the company's numerous sponsorship deals," said Sibneft press spokesman Alexei Firsov.

"Sibneft has no relations to the club's management. Chelsea is owned by an individual, who is not a member of the Sibneft managing headquarters."

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