The Portuguese prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday it has opened an investigation into the granting of citizenship to billionaire Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich – a week after a separate authority launched an inquiry of its own.
Russian-born businessman Abramovich was granted Portuguese citizenship in April 2021 based on a law offering naturalisation to descendents of Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from the Iberian peninsula during the medieval era of the Inquisition.
There is little known history of Sephardic Jews in Russia, although Abramovich is a common surname of Ashkenazi Jewish origin.
Last week, an internal inquiry by the Institute of Registries and Notary, which provides nationality services, was opened amid criticism from some activists, commentators and politicians who say the law must be reviewed as they believe it is being used by oligarchs to get a foothold in the EU.
The justice ministry said that inquiry was a standard process.
Now the prosecutor’s office has opened its own investigation, a spokesman told Reuters, adding that it was being carried out by Lisbon’s criminal investigation department. He did not explain what had triggered the inquiry.
A spokesperson for Abramovich was not immediately available for comment. Last week his representatives said he and his staff “welcome any review as it will only demonstrate the citizenship was obtained in accordance with the rules”.
Thousands of Israeli Jews have been granted Portuguese citizenship since the law was passed in 2015. The number of such applications has risen in Portugal since a similar citizenship offer to Sephardic Jews by Spain ended in 2019.
Applicants’ genealogies are vetted by experts at one of Portugal’s Jewish centres in Lisbon or Porto. The Porto centre was responsible for Abramovich’s process.
Abramovich, who made his fortune in Russia’s oil industry, has donated money to projects honouring the legacy of Portuguese Sephardic Jews in the German city of Hamburg.