THE man in pole position to become Pompey’s new owner is a sport-mad Russian banker worth a cool £300m.
Business magnate Vladimir Antonov likes fast cars, football clubs and making money.
But he has faced controversy with allegations of links to the Russian mafia which were later cleared by the Swedish government.
The London-based 35-year-old is among several interested parties eyeing up Pompey.But he has enthused the club’s owner Balram Chainrai, who said a deal could be done to sell the Blues to Mr Antonov within a fortnight.
Investment firm Convers Sports Initiatives – which Mr Antonov co-founded with his business partners Roman Dubov and former Leeds United chairman Chris Akers – is determined to lay its hands on a football club.
Last year, Mr Antonov and Mr Dubov approached AFC Bournemouth chairman Eddie Mitchell with a £6.5m bid for the club.
But Mr Mitchell told the Russians the Cherries were not for sale even though a proof of funds document had been emailed to him.
In August, Mr Antonov reportedly made a £75m bid for Glasgow Rangers, which also came to nothing.
Now he and his partners are hoping to secure a future at Fratton Park.
‘Reluctant owner’ Mr Chainrai, who holds the club after last year’s financial meltdown, is keen to sell up and move on.
The news has been met with extreme caution by fans – especially after all the speculation over various bidders last year which eventually came to nothing.
Scott Mclachlan, spokesman for Pompey Supporters’ Trust, said: ‘It’s all very much in the air at the moment. Hopefully someone takes ownership of the club who we can talk to. But there’s nothing we can do but wait and see at the moment.’
Colin Farmery, editor of fan site truebluearmy.com said: ‘Over the past eight or nine months, there have been groups linked to Portsmouth that have not turned out to be all that they seem. This Russian group certainly look serious about buying a British football club but they haven’t managed to do a deal yet.
‘The big thing is that they need to show they have the finance that Mr Chainrai, Mr Kushnir and the fans are looking for.’
Mr Antonov, who was born in Uzbekistan, was ranked Russia’s 182nd richest millionaire in 2007. He is the son of tycoon Aleksandr Antonov – owner of international financial firm Convers Group, which owned exotic Spyker cars in Holland among its many other interests. Mr Antonov senior was shot seven times outside his home in Moscow on March 11, 2009. Two men with links to a notorious gang were later jailed for the assassination attempt, which Mr Antonov junior said was an aggressive takeover attempt of Convers Group.
Mr Antonov, 35, sits on the board of several banks and is chairman of the supervisory board of Convers Group. He was chairman of Spyker cars but stepped down in 2009 during a takeover of Swedish car firm Saab because authorities alleged he had mafia connections. The Swedish government cleared Mr Antonov of any wrong-doing last year.
Mr Antonov is also the main shareholder and chairman of the supervisory board of Bankas Snoras, Lithuania’s biggest bank, which was refused a UK banking licence two years ago by the Financial Services Authority. The bank did not make an appeal.
Convers Sports Initiatives, which aims to buy Pompey, was set up to acquire stakes in sports, entertainment and media businesses.
But despite his fast cars and designer suits, Mr Antonov tries to shy away from the limelight himself – no-one from Convers Sports Initiatives was willing to comment yesterday.