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Portugal to enforce EU sanctions on Russian oligarchs even if they are citizens

Move could pave way for potential action against billionaire Roman Abramovich, who became a citizen under law that allows naturalization for descendants of Sephardic Jews

Portugal's Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva speaks during a media conference after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Lisbon, May 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
Portugal's Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva speaks during a media conference after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Lisbon, May 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Portugal will impose new EU sanctions on Russian oligarchs even if they are Portuguese citizens, the country’s foreign minister announced Tuesday, clearing the way for Lisbon to potentially move against Russian-Jewish billionaire Roman Abramovich.

“These sanctions are supported by Portuguese authorities and [will be] scrupulously enforced,” Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva told Portugal’s parliament, according to Reuters. “This has been happening whether those sanctioned had applied for investment residence permits or if they are Portuguese citizens.”

Abramovich, who has been sanctioned since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine over his links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, received Portuguese citizenship last year under a law allowing naturalization for descendants of Sephardic Jews.

His citizenship — which gave Abramovich a European Union passport for the first time — raised questions, because most Russian Jews are Ashkenazi and do not have Sephardic roots. Portuguese authorities are investigating whether the citizenship was properly awarded, and a senior rabbi was detained last week as part of the probe.

On Tuesday, the EU sanctioned Abramovich as part of a new package of measures targeting Russia.

The EU included the Russian oligarch in its updated list of wealthy Russians whose assets in the European Union — including superyachts and mansions — can be seized and entry into the bloc refused over their role in the invasion of Ukraine.

Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich sits in his box before their English Premier League soccer match against Sunderland at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, December 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

The 55-year-old Abramovich had already been punished in Britain by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration last week. The aluminum magnate was among seven wealthy Russians who had their assets frozen under British sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Abramovich has also been suspended as director of the soccer team Chelsea, which he owns.

The EU said Abramovich “has had privileged access to the [Russian] president, and has maintained very good relations with him. This connection with the Russian leader helped him to maintain his considerable wealth.”

On Tuesday morning, a private plane belonging to Abramovich landed in Moscow after a short stop in Turkey, hours after he was photographed in the VIP departure lounge at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv shortly before the plane departed.

Several Hebrew media reports said Abramovich, an Israeli passport-holder, was aboard the departing plane, but there was no immediate confirmation.

Russian-Israeli oligarch Roman Abramovich is seen at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, March 14, 2022. (Screen grab/Walla

On Sunday night, his aircraft took off from Moscow and landed in Tel Aviv. He apparently spent less than 24 hours on the ground in Israel. On Monday afternoon, a large vehicle was seen leaving his Herzliya home.

The sighting at the Ben Gurion Airport VIP terminal on Monday evening marked the first time Abramovich has been seen in public since he was hit by sanctions.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid vowed Monday that Israel “will not be a route to bypass sanctions” on Russia, though there is no legal structure allowing for Israeli sanctions on assets and citizens of a state that is not defined by law as an enemy country.

Abramovich took on Israeli citizenship in 2018 after the UK refused to renew his visa there, amid a diplomatic spat between London and Moscow. Legally, Israel cannot bar Israeli citizens from entering the country if there is no arrest warrant out for them, nor can it legally confiscate property in Israel.

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