Portugal to Change Nationality Law That Allowed Abramovich to Gain Citizenship, FM Says

Russian oligarch Abramovich, who also holds Israeli citizenship, became a Portuguese citizen in April 2021 based on a law offering naturalization to descendants of Sephardi Jews

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Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club Roman Abramovich arrives at a division of the High Court in central London in 2011.
Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club Roman Abramovich arrives at a division of the High Court in central London in 2011.Credit: Andrew Winning/ REUTERS

Portugal will change the law that allowed for Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich, who is facing international sanctions, to acquire citizenship, the country's foreign minister announced on Wednesday.

"The new order includes a requirement (to show) a real connection with Portugal," Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said, describing the amendment as a "mechanism" that would help prevent "manipulations" of the law.

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However, the foreign minister said that the changes to the law will not apply retroactively, adding that the country cannot ban entry to Roman Abramovich because he is a citizen.

The change may affect those who are in the process of obtaining Portuguese citizenship as part of the amendment to the Portuguese Citizenship Law, which grants citizenship to the descendants of Jews deported from it, which was approved in January 2015.

Today, people can apply for admission based on the approval of the Jewish community in Portugal, and through family name, among other things.

Abramovich was granted citizenship in April 2021 based on a law offering naturalization to descendants of Sephardi Jews who were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula during the Medieval Inquisition.

There is little known history of Sephardi Jews in Russia, although Abramovich is a common surname of Ashkenazi Jewish origin. Applicants' genealogies are vetted by experts at one of Portugal's Jewish centers in Lisbon or Porto, with the Porto center responsible for Abramovich's process.

Last January, Portuguese authorities launched an investigation into Abramovich's naturalization process. If irregularities are found in his naturalization process, his Portuguese citizenship may be revoked.

A spokeswoman for Abramovich said he and his staff "welcome any review as it will only demonstrate the citizenship was obtained in accordance with the rules".

But the move has come under sharp criticism at home and abroad. Portuguese media, politicians and social activists have called it a "passport mafia" and requested a re-examination of the amendment to the Citizenship Act, which they say is being exploited by dubious oligarchs seeking a foothold in the EU.

An investigation published last year by the Portuguese newspaper Publico raised suspicions that Abramovich had obtained his Portuguese citizenship illegally, using a forged document and exploiting his connections to the Jewish community in the city of Porto and the fact that he was a known donor of the city's Holocaust Museum.

A comprehensive study published by Publico last month shows that in recent years the Jewish community in Porto has received millions of euros from the genealogical tests it conducts for citizens.

According to the investigation, at least 86,000 applications have been examined by the Jewish communities in Porto and Lisbon since 2015, at least 56,000 of them have been approved by the Portuguese Ministry of Justice, and tens of thousands more are awaiting approval.

It was also reported that 90% of all applications – about 67,000 – were examined in Porto, and that the Jewish community in the city earned 250 euros for each of them, in addition to a 250 euro registration fee for each application. The community managed to pocket millions, the investigation.

The journalist behind the investigation told Haaretz that during his work he did not find any indications of criminality or irregularities on the part of the board of directors of the Porto Jewish community, which holds significant influence in the decision to grant citizenship. However, he said, the whole process of examining the citizenship applications of the descendants of deportees from Spain is not transparent.

"I have never had access to documents or knew how the process takes place. The point here is to understand how credible the whole procedure is," he said. "Currently, only 300 applications for citizenship under the National Citizenship Law for descendants of the ancient Jewish community have been denied."

Earlier this week, the Porto police arrested the leader of the Jewish community in the city, Rabbi Daniel Litvak, on suspicion of helping Israeli-Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich obtain Portuguese citizenship illegally. According to city authorities, Litvak is suspected of issuing a fake document for Abramovich last year that helped him obtain citizenship. According to a report in the Portuguese newspaper "Publico", the rabbi was preparing to travel to Israel when he was arrested.

Sam Sokol contributed to this report.

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