Three years after withdrawing his application for a UK visa due to tensions between London and Moscow, Roman Abramovich has become an EU citizen in a surprising turn of events. The Chelsea Football Club owner successfully secured Portuguese citizenship earlier this year, as confirmed by his spokesperson on Saturday 18 December.
The application was submitted under a Portuguese law that offers naturalisation to descendants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from the Iberian peninsula during the Inquisition, according to a report in the Portuguese newspaper Público.
Roman Abramovich was originally seeking a UK visa in 2018 but decided against pursuing the application to the end in the wake of the changing political landscape. The Salisbury poisoning incident drove up diplomatic tension between the UK and Russia and changes in the borders department made it harder for powerful Russians to obtain British visas. The new stadium Abramovich was going to build for Chelsea got shelved due to the complications.
His new EU passport means the businessman would need to pass the UK’s point-based post-Brexit immigration system and meet “specific requirements” if he now chose to stay and work in the UK. His Portuguese passport, however, follows him getting an Israeli passport in late 2018 which meant it was already possible for him to visit his family in the UK without the need for a visa.
The law that grants naturalisation to Sephardic Jewish descendants has been used by thousands of Israeli Jews since it was passed in 2015. Genealogies of applicants are vetted by experts, who also look for interest in Sephardic culture. Abramovich is understood to have donated money to projects honouring the legacy of Portuguese Sephardic Jews in Hamburg.
The granting of a Portuguese passport is seen as a novel way for a Russian oligarch to secure citizenship in the EU. Many oligarchs before Abramovich went down the “Golden Visa” route, with accusations of corruption levied against them and the governments who granted the visas too.
In 2017 the Guardian revealed how the government of Cyprus had raised more than €4bn in four years by providing citizenship to the super-rich, granting them the right to live and work throughout Europe in exchange for cash investment. Documents indicated that more than 400 passports a year were issued through the scheme.
Sephardic Jews were given an ultimatum in 1492 to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. A large portion of the estimated 300,000 Jews who lived in Spain at the time fled to Portugal, only to be persecuted or expelled in 1496.
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