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‘So what,’ Kremlin asks after Chelsea owner Abramovich becomes Israeli

Spokesperson for Russian presidency says Jewish billionaire escaping UK visa woes ‘has right’ to immigrate to Israel

Chelsea's Russian owner Roman Abramovich applauds his players after they defeated Arsenal 6-0, in an English Premier League soccer match at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, on March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Chelsea's Russian owner Roman Abramovich applauds his players after they defeated Arsenal 6-0, in an English Premier League soccer match at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, on March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

MOSCOW, Russia — Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich has the right to Israeli citizenship, the Kremlin said Tuesday, a day after the Chelsea soccer club owner traveled to Israel and became a citizen following delays to his British visa application.

“The Kremlin doesn’t think anything about this,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists in response to a question on the move by Abramovich, a former regional governor seen as being on good terms with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“An entrepreneur receives Israeli citizenship. So what? It’s his right,” Peskov said of Abramovich, who is Jewish.

Abramovich, 51, landed in Ben Gurion International Airport Monday, the ministry said, and received an Israeli identity card under the Law of Return, which allows Jews to become citizens of Israel. He arrived in his private jet.

The move to Israel comes after Abramovich was unable to extend his visa in the UK amid a diplomatic spat between London and Moscow.

The Nativ Liaison Bureau, which facilitates immigration from Russian-speaking countries, said Abramovich applied for citizenship from abroad last week.

“Roman Abramovich arrived at the Israeli embassy in Moscow like any other person. He filed a request to receive an immigration permit, his documents were checked according to the Law of Return, and he was indeed found eligible,” a spokesperson told Channel 10 news.

Spokesmen for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office contacted by AFP did not confirm or deny the report. Abramovich’s spokesman John Mann refused to comment, saying it was a personal matter.

Israel’s Law of Return gives every Jew, or child or grandchild of a Jew, the right to Israeli citizenship on demand.

Roman Abramovich, the owner of England’s Chelsea soccer club sits, watches the Euro 2008 group E qualifying soccer match Israel vs Russia at the Ramat Gan stadium outside Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2007. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

Abramovich, worth $12.5 billion according to the British press, instantly became the richest person in Israel.

He will live in a mansion in Tel Aviv’s neighborhood of Neve Tzedek, a former hotel he purchased from Israeli Hollywood actress Gal Gadot, Ynet reported.

As a new citizen, Abramovich is exempt from taxes in Israel on income earned abroad for 10 years, and need not declare the sources of that income for the same period.

Sources in Abramovich’s entourage told Russian and international media earlier this month that Abramovich’s British visa had run out and his application for a new one was taking longer than usual.

The reports of his visa problems came as British MPs urged the government to clamp down on corrupt Russian money flowing through London. They called for global action to tighten loopholes in existing sanctions targeting oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Abramovich served as governor of Russia’s remote Chukotka from 2000 to 2008 and pumped in millions of dollars to develop the region. Putin repeatedly urged Abramovich to stay on as governor while he was already living between Russia and Britain.

He sold his majority stake in oil major Sibneft to state-controlled Gazprom in 2005 for 13 billion dollars.

Abramovich missed Chelsea’s Football Association Cup final victory over Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in London this month. He has owned the team since 2003 and has been present at nearly every game, until his visa problems began.

Times of Israel staff and JTA contributed to this report.

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