LISBON – Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich’s acquisition of Portuguese nationality under a 2015 law that repatriates descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled during the Inquisition has reignited debate over the bill.
Data from last year shows that at least 76,000 people have applied for a Portuguese passport under the law and 23,000 of them have been approved. Spain has also adopted similar legislation.
Abramovich, a businessman and prominent owner of the popular Chelsea Football Club in London, applied for citizenship claiming affiliation with the Jewish community in Porto, Israeli news site Ynet reported last month.
Unconfirmed reports have claimed that some members of Abramovich’s family have Sephardic roots.
Eastern Europe was once home to several thousand Jews of Sephardic descent.
Sephardic immigrants founded in 1588 the Jewish community of Zamosc in eastern Poland, among others.
But Abramovich’s use of the law has drawn unusual scrutiny and criticism in Portugal, which is a member of the European Union and whose citizens can reside anywhere in the bloc.
Portuguese radio station TSF broadcast and published on December 28 a statement by investigative journalist Daniel Oliveira, in which he accused the Jewish community of Porto of having turned “a just law into a” golden visa “by making hitchhiking on our past crimes. “
Oliveira suggested that the links between the Jewish community in Porto and Abramovich are “unclear,” and said he believed the Porto communal organization was less reliable in vetting applications than the Jewish community group in Lisbon.
AbrilAbril published an editorial last week calling for a review of the citizenship law and suggesting that Abramovich and other beneficiaries of Portuguese citizenship under the law use their influence to keep it unchanged.
The Jewish community in Porto has confirmed that it has processed Abramovich’s citizenship application, for an amount of 250 euros, or approximately $ 283. The Lisbon Jewish community has had data on Abramovich’s ancestors for years, the Porto group added.
He also rejected claims that Abramovich’s naturalization differed in any way from the 2015 law and its procedures.
The Porto organization told JTA it was now witnessing an “anti-Semitic wave” on social media following the debate over Abramovich.
In 2020, Portugal’s ruling Socialist Party withdrew its plan to limit the law amid criticism from local Jewish groups who said the proposed changes were in part motivated by anti-Semitism.
The European Jewish Congress also vigorously opposed the changes.
The government has tasked the two municipal organizations in Lisbon and Porto with checking the authenticity of citizenship applications, for which they charge hundreds of dollars in processing fees. A third community in Belmonte is also trying to gain control status.
Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said last week that Abramovich’s naturalization “was made in accordance with the law” and called the criticisms “unwarranted”.