The Jewish community of Portugal's northern city of Porto condemned the recent arrest of its leader on Tuesday, comparing allegations of wrongdoing against their local rabbi to the historical persecution of Portuguese Jews at the hands of the Catholic Church.
Asked to comment on authorities’ claims that Daniel Litvak had fraudulently furnished a document allowing Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich to get Portuguese citizenship last year, a representative of the community dismissed the issue, saying that “no one is available to talk about this sad case based on anonymous reports as at the time of the inquisition.”
Litvak, who was preparing to travel to Israel when he was detained, was arrested last Friday as part of an ongoing inquiry by public prosecutors into the granting of citizenship to Chelsea soccer club owner Abramovich.
According to the BBC, Litvak’s passport was confiscated, and he was ordered to regularly check in with the authorities.
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. The Porto center, where Litvak is the rabbi, was responsible for Abramovich's process.
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".
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Public prosecutors opened an inquiry in January. Last Thursday, a Portuguese government source told Reuters Abramovich's citizenship could be stripped depending on the outcome of the inquiry.
In a joint statement, criminal investigation agency PJ and the public prosecutors said its officers raided homes, a lawyer's office and others spaces on Friday as part of the investigation into crimes such as money laundering, corruption and falsification of documents. Evidence was collected and would be analyzed, it added.
The community, which last week claimed that it was the target of a “smear campaign,” on Sunday released a statement stating that it would no longer issue documents relating to foreigners’ eligibility for Portuguese citizenship, stating that it was “no longer interested in collaborating with the Portuguese State in certifying Sephardic Jews.”
"The community has worked in full honest standards during the mandate it was given throughout its role in the Sephardic certification process,” it averred, claiming that “the criminal proceedings underway are essentially based on unbelievable anonymous denunciations.”
Community leaders “have been subjected to searches on account of contacts they never had with registry offices, of embezzlement that are technically impossible to carry out in this organization, and of allegedly being co-responsible for the Chief Rabbi’s certification activity,” it stated.
“The Community maintains that it has worked in full transparency and maintained rigorous and honest standards during the mandate it was given throughout its role in the Sephardic certification process.”
It added that public prosecutors were also investigating the certification of Portuguese nationality granted by Lisbon’s Jewish community to Franco-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi, the founder of Altice telecom group.
Reuters contributed to this report.