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Yle probe reveals Finnish hockey team's links to Putin inner circle

The Helsinki ice hockey team Jokerit announced their decision to leave the KHL season early.

Jari Kurri ja KHL
Jari Kurri (left) is the main individual owner of Jokerit. Roman Rotenberg (second from left) ja Gennadi Timtšenko (second from right) are Helsinki Arena's main owners. Vladimir Potanin (right) is the main owner of a group that includes Norilsk Nickel Harjavalta Oy, which owns Jokerit. Image: All Over Press
Yle News

The Helsinki-based ice hockey team Jokerit announced on Friday that they would leave the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) season early, in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Jokerit however refused to comment on their decision to Yle Urheilu, and did not say whether they plan to rejoin the KHL next season.

The league was initially formed from the Russian Superleague, and 19 of the 24 teams in the series are Russia-based.

Many western countries, including Finland, have condemned Russia's actions in Ukraine, and the sports community has also reacted to the attack, in part by refusing to participate in sports competitions in Russia.

Pressure on Jokerit has mounted over the past 24 hours, with the team losing partnerships with staffing company Barona, real estate company RE/MAX Finland and Taksi Helsinki. Hartwall also informed commercial broadcaster MTV on Thursday that it was looking into terminating its partnership with the hockey team.

Jokerit and its home arena are both connected to Russian businessmen considered to be in Putin's close circle. Yle's MOT editorial office has previously investigated their relationships with Russian leadership and business operations within tax havens.

Hartwall Arena -- where Jokerit play home games -- is owned by Helsingin Halli, whose main shareholder is Arena Events. The chair of the boards of both companies is Russian businessman Roman Rotenberg, and Rotenberg and Gennady Tymoshenko are the main owners of the arena.

Roman Rotenberg's father is Boris Rotenberg and his uncle is Arkadi Rotenberg. Tymoshenko and the Rotenbergs are known for their close ties to Putin. The United States and Britain have both placed the businessmen on anti-Russian sanctions lists.

Tymoshenko and the Rotenbergs are also former financiers of Jokerit. The current owner of the hockey team is Jari Kurri through his company Jack Promotions. The mining company Norilsk Nickel owns a significant share of his company and thus, Jokerit. The company is part of a group whose main owner is the Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin, one of the richest people in Russia.

Jokerit have accumulated losses of just over 10 million euros a year, which the owners have offset with capital loans.

The Russian KHL League is the country's main hockey league, where Jokerit have played since 2014. Roman Rotenberg is also the head coach of the KHL club, St. Petersburg SKA. Rotenberg’s father, Boris Rotenberg, gave an interview to Sport Expressen in January, saying his son had appointed himself head coach.

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