The richest Portuguese in the world is called Roman Abramovich. The Portuguese press ironizes the matter whenever it can since the newspaper Public uncovered that the Russian billionaire had obtained Portuguese citizenship in April 2021, taking advantage of the path opened in the Nationality Law for the descendants of the Sephardim expelled from Portugal in 1496 by King Manuel I. The oligarch who previously hired Lady Gaga for private concerts and who now has yachts held up in various Western ports by sanctions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine is one of 56,686 Jews, most of them residents of Israel, who became Portuguese between 2015 and 2021. In that period, barely 300 petitions were rejected by the Institute of Registries and Notaries of the Ministry of Justice, which must certify whether citizenship is granted or not and which still has more than 80,000 files pending examination.
Almost 90% of the 137,087 applications submitted in six years came from the Jewish Community of Porto, the only one, together with the Jewish Community of Lisbon, legally authorized to issue certificates to achieve Portuguese nationalization. The suspicions center on the Porto entity, which has seen its financial and institutional power grow since the process was opened for the Sephardim. Its rabbi, Daniel Litvak, was detained in March for a few hours as part of the investigation opened by the State Attorney General’s Office into irregularities in the processing of files in which influence peddling, active corruption, falsification of document, money laundering, tax fraud and criminal association.
The police suspect that 35 million euros of the donations received by the religious organization have been diverted since the rule came into force. The second defendant in this investigation is the lawyer Francisco Almeida Garrett, who belongs to the leadership of the Jewish Community of Porto and is the nephew of Maria de Belém Roseira, the socialist deputy who defended the lax wording of the norm for Sephardim. Sources cited by the weekly Expresso assure that the institution had a “parallel accounting, in on and in off” and that a witness denounced years ago to the judicial police the Portuguese connection with a forgery network that issued fraudulent birth certificates sealed by the Kingdom of Morocco and accredited by the rabbinical court of Casablanca in exchange for 6,500 euros. The bureaucratic management of nationalization has also become an appetizing business for law firms that offer to process it in a short time.
Easy access route to the EU
The Portuguese passport is not just a Portuguese passport. Before its owner, all the privileges of community citizenship are opened, which allow you to move freely around the European Union and dispense with visas to access 116 countries, according to the Passport Index statistics for 2021. A joy if someone has an inclination for the movements of clandestine money. Jewish roots have become in recent years a convenient way to access the community bubble that has benefited, among others, Abramóvich, one of the main donors of funds for the opening of the Holocaust Museum in Portodriven by the community that processed the nationalization.
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He has not been the only rich man attracted by Portuguese citizenship. The Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, known as the king of diamonds, a friend of Abramóvich and Berel Lazar, chief rabbi of Russia and close to Putin, was also certified in 2020 by the Porto community as a descendant of Iberian Sephardim, according to the weekly Expresso. It has not transpired if the Portuguese Administration has already given its approval to its nationalization.
The Portuguese press is gradually bringing to light a network of suspicious relationships around the activity of this Jewish community and the procedure followed in the Abramovich case, among others. Rabbi Alexander Boroda, who signs the document that proves the Sephardic roots of the oligarch, has chaired the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia since 2008, whose board of directors includes Abramovich himself, according to the newspaper Public. Boroda himself was in turn accredited by the Porto community as a descendant of Sephardim. Another of the rabbis who endorses the Russian oligarch is the Israeli Yona Leib Label, also accredited by the Jewish Community of Porto as a descendant of Sephardim.
Abramóvich’s nationality may be reversible if finally the open investigation determines that some anomaly was committed, but what is already certain is that the laxity of the Portuguese Administration has its months numbered. In September, the article of the Government decree law that tightens the criteria for granting Portuguese nationality, as the demonstration of a real and current link with the country, will come into force, as stated on the website of the Ministry of Justice. In addition to documents proving Sephardic family history, the new requirements will require evidence of that relationship, such as possession of an inherited property or frequent trips to Portugal. The royal decree was approved by the Council of Ministers in February and promulgated in March by the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. Paradoxically, all the changes to the Nationality Law regulations entered into force on Friday, April 14, with the exception of the sections relating to Sephardim, which was the most urgent reason for the reform.
The decree that allowed the granting of Portuguese nationality to the descendants of Jews expelled from the country more than five centuries ago entered into force on March 2, 2015 and was modified in 2020. The promoter of the nationalization of Sephardim was the socialist deputy Maria de Belém Roseira, aunt of the lawyer Francisco de Almeida Garrett, in the crosshairs of justice for the anomalies. In statements to the press, Roseira has denied that her nephew conditioned her legislative work.
However, the former Socialist Minister of Internal Administration and expert in the Law of Nationalities, Constance Urbano de SousaHe assured in an interview with the newspaper Public who received pressure from the ranks of his party to prevent the 2020 reform from endowing the nationalization process with more demands: “There was a huge response. My proposal required a minimum period of previous residence in Portugal of two years. A more favorable regime than the one that exists for the immigrants who reside here. Due to pressure at the highest level, I ended up rectifying twice. I first dropped the two-year residency requirement, replacing this requirement with any relevant connection to Portugal, which would then be regulated, but I was also forced to drop this proposal.”