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Faces of the week (Friday 30 September, 2005)


Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are ROMAN ABRAMOVICH (main picture), with GENERAL JOHN DE CHASTELAIN, SYLVIA HARDY, CHERIE BLAIR and DAVID HOCKNEY.

ROMAN ABRAMOVICH

The sale of his oil company, Sibneft, has this week made Roman Abramovich, even by his own stratospheric standards, a very wealthy man.

Already the richest man both in Britain and Russia, Roman Abramovich has just dropped a few more pennies in his piggy bank. The sale of Sibneft to Russia's state-owned gas group, Gazprom, has earned him a personal moneybag of an estimated £7.4bn.

On interest alone, this would earn the entrepreneur nearly £1m a day. If you can't picture that, try this. Laid out end to end in dollar bills, this week's treasure chest would stretch to the moon and back - twice.

Two of the Chelsea team celebrate with their benefactor
So what do you do with such a windfall? Roman Abramovich already has properties ranging from an English country pile to a villa in St Tropez. He hits the water in his £72m Pelorus, the 5th largest yacht in the world - he has two others - and slums it the rest of the time in one of his Boeing 767s. Not forgetting his biggest hobby, which happens to be England's beautiful game.

Like Victor Kiam, "Bram" liked Chelsea Football Club so much, he bought everything from the gates to the goal posts. Unlike Victor Kiam, he evidently has yet to purchase a razor.

Chukotka's champion

Such trappings are a far cry from Abramovich's harsh childhood. An orphan by the age of four, he was raised by his Jewish family in the unforgiving environs of the Arctic Circle, in a remote northerly part of Russia. He dropped out of college and began his business career selling plastic ducks from a grim Moscow apartment.

His mentor, oligarch Boris Berezovsky, acquired his oil assets at a knock-down price during the chaotic sale of dozens of the country's national assets, which came towards the end of Boris Yeltsin's rule. Abramovich followed in his path. Within a few years, his already vast wealth had spread from conglomerates to pig farms, and secured his place within Mr Yeltsin's inner circle.

Abramovich with his glamorous wife Irina
When Russia's current leader, Vladamir Putin, came to power, Abramovich entered politics himself, becoming the governor of remote Chukotka in Siberia. After winning the election with 92% of the vote, he pumped millions of pounds into the area, building houses and hospitals, and sending thousands of schoolchildren on holiday to the Black Sea.

In 2003, he paid a cool £140m to extend his Roman empire west to Stamford Bridge, in the biggest takeover in footballing history.

At the time, MP Tony Banks questioned whether, with his big but Byzantine asset-portfolio, Abramovich was a "fit and proper" owner for Chelsea, but chairman Ken Bates welcomed the chance to fill the club's coffers, as well as his own.

Russian responsibilities

Since then, the Russian's deep pockets have ensured a run of success for the West London team. Last season saw them become league champions for the first time in 50 years, and their manager Jose Mourinho has continued to throw around a fat cheque-book in pursuit of more championship glory.

Politics may keep Abramovich in Chukotka
On the other hand, Abramovich may have cut his financial ties with the east, but the Russian government may want more than oil for their money. Rumours abound that a large proportion of his bulging new wad may have to be reinvested in Russia - Putin has stressed that he wants the oligarchs to be "socially responsible" to the country that made them rich.

For Mr Abramovich, this may involve staying in charge of Chukotka, too. Although he has previously said he will be standing down as governor at the end of the year, only this week his name topped the Kremlin's list of new candidates.

Selling his assets back to the state may help Mr Abramovich avoid the fate of fellow businessman and arch-rival, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, recently prosecuted for fraud and jailed for eight years. But he will want to stay on the right side of his president, for whom "oligarch-bashing" is a guaranteed vote-puller.

Meanwhile, this media-shy tycoon may be living the life of an English country squire, but his task force of bodyguards and armoured Mercedes testify to the high-octane nature of capitalism in post-Soviet Russia. Both on the pitch and off, Roman Abramovich, it seems, still has everything to play for.


JOHN DE CHASTELAIN

It was a dramatic week for General John de Chastelain, head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. The Canadian former ambassador announced that the IRA had put all of its weapons beyond use. De Chastelain said he and his team had handled every gun and rifle, some dating back to the 1930s, and that it was likely even the IRA itself no longer knew what arms it had been keeping.

 

SYLVIA HARDY

Sylvia Hardy spent 36 hours behind bars as a defiant pensioner, a former social worker jailed for non-payment of her council tax bill. She was happy to spend a week in prison, but had her freedom forced back on her by a mysterious benefactor, "Mr Brown", who paid her fine. Disappointed Miss Hardy expects to be back in jail next year. She said, "I told some of the girls I'd see them again."

CHERIE BLAIR

Cherie Blair grew misty-eyed when she attended an Ordnance Survey stall in Liverpool. The bridge on the map, she confided, was where she'd had her very first kiss, with one Stephen Smerdon. Mr Smerdon, now a Hitchin publican, also remembers the moment, though they were all of 11 at the time. He said he would return to the bridge but, this time "I suppose I'd better take my wife along".

 
DAVID HOCKNEY

Artist David Hockney expressed his horror at government plans to ban public smoking by 2008. At the Labour Party Conference, he called these proposals "a step too far", and on radio he clashed with a Labour MP. Julie Morgan talked of the "overwhelming evidence" of the dangers of smoking, and the need to protect children and asthmatics. Hockney called her "bossy" and "dreary" and said to her, "You destroy bohemia."

Compiled by BBC News Profiles Unit's Caroline Frost