Russian-Jewish billionaire Roman Abramovich, who immigrated to Israel in May, was denied Swiss citizenship last year after local police deem him a “danger to public security and to Switzerland’s reputation,” a report said Tuesday.
Abramovich, the owner of London’s Chelsea soccer club who became Israel’s richest citizen when he immigrated, lost a six-month legal battle against local newspaper Tamedia, which on Tuesday published the Swiss federal police’s grounds for rejecting the citizenship request.
He is suspected of money laundering and of having contacts with criminal organizations, the Federal Office of Police said, citing investigations carried out into his trading company Runicom in the late 1990s without going into specifics.
Abramovich denies the allegations.
The requests for citizenship in Switzerland came in 2016, over a year before Abramovich ran into visa issues in the UK amid a diplomatic spat between London and Moscow that eventually saw him leave London for Israel.
In May, Israel’s Interior Ministry confirmed that the 51-year-old had landed at Ben Gurion International Airport 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.
— avi scharf (@avischarf) May 28, 2018
Abramovich, who is worth $12.5 billion according to the British press, had applied to become a resident of the Swiss canton of Valais in July 2016, according to the new report. Cantonal authorities originally accepted the request, explaining that he would be “a very attractive taxpayer for the community and the canton.”
But federal authorities intervened and in January 2017 concluded, in an assessment handed to immigration authorities, that accepting Abramovich as a citizen could damage Switzerland’s reputation and even a public security risk.
The oligarch has never been charged of money laundering or of having ties with criminal groups, but police concluded that based on the earlier investigations it “has reason to believe that a portion of Abramovich’s assets were arrived at illegally.”
Abramovich withdrew his citizenship request after getting wind of the allegations.
“Any suggestion that Mr. Abramovich has been involved in money laundering or has contacts with criminal organizations is entirely false,” said his lawyer, Daniel Glasl. “Mr. Abramovich has never been charged with participating in money laundering and does not have a criminal record. He has never had, or been alleged to have, connections with criminal organizations.”
Abramovich’s British visa, which was granted before more rigorous regulations were instituted in April 2015, expired in April.
Abramovich would have to explain the source of his wealth to receive a new British visa, according to reports. The United Kingdom has scrutinized Russian businesspeople and diplomats more carefully since the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, in March.
Several Russian diplomats were expelled following the incident.
As a new citizen in Israel, he is exempt from taxes on income earned abroad for 10 years, and need not declare the sources of that income for the same period.
He formally has residency in Jersey in the Channel Islands, a tax haven, but has never taken it up.
JTA and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.