Sepharad is the Hebrew name of the Iberian Peninsula
In the last five years, 32,000 of the 86.500 (37%) applications for Portuguese citizenship have been granted to descendants of Sephardic Jews, expelled from Portugal 525 years ago. More than 50.000 requests are still under review. The majority of the applicants come from Israel, Brazil, and Turkey.
Especially in the last two years, the number of requests in Portugal has risen substantially since a similar citizenship offer by Spain ended in 2019.
Fifty-five-year-old Roman Abramovic, Russian billionaire, friend of Putin, until very recently the owner of Chelsea football club and since 2018 also in the possession of an Israelian passport, is one of the citizens who became Portuguese in April last year – in a process that was finalized in only six months – as the daily Público reported in mid-December.
Curiously, the newspaper Expresso could not find compelling evidence to suggest that Abramovic has any familial connections to Sephardic Jews in Portugal. There is little known history of Sephardic Jews in Russia, although Abramovic is a common surname of Ashkenazi Jewish origin from Eastern Europe. In fact, his Portuguese Sephardic roots were added to his Wikipedia profile only hours after Público published his naturalization.
Portugal’s decision to grant naturalization to Abramovic was criticized by Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s mains political opponent. ‘Finally, Putin’s closest oligarch managed to find a country where he can pay some bribes to end up circulating free in the EU’, Navalny wrote on his Twitter account.
The minister of State and Foreign Affairs Augusto Santos Silva rejected the criticism. ‘The idea that the Portuguese officials carry suitcases of money is insulting and has no foundation. The granting of Portuguese nationality to Abramovic is in accordance with a 2014 law’.
However, ‘everything indicates that behind a well-intentioned law a passport mafia has been set up’ stated João Batalha – anti-corruption activist and founder of the Portuguese branch of Transparency International – on Twitter.
The Institute of Registries and Notary (IRN) has opened an internal inquiry into the granting of citizenship to Roman Abramovic to establish where there was any kind of irregularity. Not only is there doubt about his lineage to be Sephardic, but the process to obtain the Portuguese nationality was also approved in record time.
Although Abramovic was not (yet) on the EU’s list of oligarchs subjected to targeted measures in view of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, parliamentary sources in the UK claimed at the beginning of March the wealthy oligarch was hastily selling properties to avoid potential financial sanctions.
In the meantime, Britain and the EU have frozen all assets of Abramovic, putting on ice his plans to sell the Premier League club, whereas the Portuguese Ministry of Justice declared that (for now) it will not remove Abramovic’s citizenship as sanctions against oligarchs do not include loss of nationality.
Enjoy your week Aproveite a sua semana (pic Público/Sapo)