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12 Mar, 2022 16:40

Rabbi detained in Abramovich probe

An investigation into how the embattled Russian oligarch attained Portuguese citizenship could see him lose his EU passport
Rabbi detained in Abramovich probe

A senior rabbi has been detained by police in Portugal as part of an investigation into how Russian businessman and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich obtained citizenship in the country.

Rabbi Daniel Litvak was arrested by judicial police officers at the airport in the country’s second-largest city, Porto, on Thursday as he was about to board a flight to Israel, Portuguese daily Publico reported.

Litvak is the head of the Jewish Community of Oporto, which was delegated the task of vetting applications for Portuguese citizenship from descendants of Sephardic Jews.

The group received its powers under a law introduced in 2013 to atone for the campaign of religious persecution during the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal in the 16th century, which forced many Jews to hide their identity or leave those countries altogether.

Several Portuguese agencies have been looking into whether “influence-peddling, active corruption, forgery of documents, money laundering,” and other crimes were committed when Abramovich received his Portuguese passport and became an EU citizen last April, according to Publico.

The 55-year-old businessman, who also has Russian and Israeli papers, had been granted citizenship “in record time,” the paper alleged at the time. This raised the authorities’ suspicions, as most Russian Jews are Ashkenazi and don’t have Sephardic roots.

In January, Litvak insisted the investigation would prove there was no impropriety about the way his organization had processed Abramovich’s application. If this is not found to be the case, Portuguese officials told Reuters, he could end up losing his EU passport.

The inquiry into Abramovich’s application began before Russia’s attack on Ukraine in late February, which saw the oligarch sanctioned by the UK. It has now been intensified due to recent events.

On Thursday, Britain froze his assets and accused him of “obtaining a benefit from or supporting the government of Russia” due to his undertaking business “in sectors of strategic significance” to the Kremlin. Other prominent Russian businessmen were also targeted. Chelsea FC’s assets have also been blocked, stalling Abramovich’s plan to sell the London club, which won the Champions League last year. A number of reports on Saturday suggest US hedge funds have also frozen the entrepreneur’s accounts.