Rabbi said detained in inquiry into how Roman Abramovich got Portuguese citizenship

Report says investigators probing if ‘influence peddling, active corruption, forgery of documents, money laundering’ or other crimes played a role

Cnaan Liphshiz is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

The owner of England's Chelsea Football Club, Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich, as he leaves court in London, October 4, 2011. (AP/File)
The owner of England's Chelsea Football Club, Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich, as he leaves court in London, October 4, 2011. (AP/File)

JTA — A top rabbi in Portugal’s second-largest city has been detained amid an inquiry into how Roman Abramovich, the Russian Jewish oligarch sanctioned this week in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, obtained Portuguese citizenship last year.

Rabbi Daniel Litvak of the Jewish Community of Porto, an organization representing Jews in that city, was arrested Thursday as he was preparing to depart for Israel, according to the Portuguese news organization Publico.

Multiple Portuguese agencies have been investigating whether Abramovich’s citizenship was properly awarded under Portugal’s 2013 law allowing naturalization for descendants of Sephardic Jews. The law represented an attempt to atone for the Inquisition, a campaign of religious persecution in Spain and Portugal in the 16th century that forced tens of thousands of Jews to emigrate, hide their Jewish identity or denounce it altogether.

The government delegated the task of vetting applications for citizenship to two groups, the Jewish Community of Lisbon and Litvak’s organization in Porto. Tens of thousands of applicants have become Portuguese citizens under the law, which helped turn Porto into a Jewish destination.

Abramovich’s citizenship — which gave him a European Union passport for the first time — raised questions because most Russian Jews are Ashkenazi and do not have Sephardic roots. But Litvak said in January that he was certain an investigation would show that his organization had assessed Abramovich’s application as it would anyone else’s.

The Jewish Community of Porto did not immediately reply to a query by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about Litvak’s detainment.

Publico reported that investigators are examining whether “influence peddling, active corruption, forgery of documents, money laundering” and other crimes played a role in how Porto awarded citizenship. Portuguese criminal investigators conducted additional raids Friday, the news organization reported.

The inquiry into how the Jewish Community of Porto awarded citizenship to Sephardic Jews began well before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine last month.

But the war has intensified scrutiny of Abramovich and other people tied to Putin. On Thursday, the United Kingdom, where he lives and owns the Chelsea soccer club, placed him under sanctions for the first time.

Portuguese officials told Reuters that Abramovich could potentially lose his Portuguese citizenship depending on the course of the investigation. Abramovich is also a citizen of Israel.

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