Photo of Roman Abramovich shared widely shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. He was apparently waiting to leave Israel because "Israel had no intention of helping #Russians to hide from European and American #sanctions"

Abramovich nationality probe: damning new statement

Sephardic Genealogical Society says it is “deeply embarrassed”

As Roman Abramovich has discovered the sharp end of his acquired Portuguese and Israeli nationalities, the Sephardic Genealogical Society has delivered a damning statement, in English, Portuguese and Spanish.

It sheds light on what may lie at the root of the unedifying controversy that has already seen the spiritual leader of the Jewish Community of Porto, Rabbi David Litvak, and Portuguese lawyer João Almeida Garrett, detained on suspicion of active corruption, money-laundering, criminal association, fiscal fraud and the trafficking of influences.

Writes president of the society, David Mendoza: “We are deeply embarrassed in front of the Portuguese people. As in Spain, Portugal entrusting the  verification of Sephardic genealogy to non-Sephardic non-genealogists was a surprising decision. A cleaned-up and reduced scheme has a lot to offer both Portugal and the Sephardic diaspora. We have total confidence in the Portuguese justice system.” 

In other words, what may have happened is that this admirable scheme to right terrible wrongs of the long-distant past was ‘compromised’ by the fact that people unqualified to the task in hand were left in charge.

This whole furore built out of allegations, just before Christmas, that Roman Abramovich had “finally managed to find a country where you can give bribes and make some semi-official and official payments to end up in the EU and NATO…”

An undeniable Ashkenazi Jew, Mr Abramovich managed to provide sufficient documentation to the Porto Jewish Community that he also hailed from Sephardic Jews forcibly converted to Christianity (or equally forced to flee for their lives) over 500 years ago – and as such he had the right to claim nationality.

The statement admits: “We have not seen the evidential documents submitted.

“We note that many Ashkenazi families have traditions of Sephardic ancestry, and it is  entirely possible that Mr Abramovich’s family fits within this category. In most cases there is no archival or genetic evidence to support these beliefs. 

“The responsibility for certification of Sephardic ancestry rests with the certifier, not the applicant”, the statement continues. 

“We ask the Jewish Community of Porto to clarify the certification process they used.  

“Clause 12 of our Code of Conduct states: Those reviewing applicants’ Sephardic origins in Portugal and Spain are asked to work to agreed and published national evidential standards, be consistent in their adjudications, and be reasonable. 

“The Jewish Community of Porto apparently found evidence of Sephardic ancestry in families we had assumed belonged to Ashkenazi, Mizrahi or other Jewish sub-groups.  We hope they choose to share this information with us (see below). 

“Should the Jewish Community of Porto choose and provide funding, the Sephardic  Genealogical Society is happy to review all the applications they certified”. 

There mere fact that the genealogical society states “the Jewish Community of Porto apparently found evidence of Sephardic ancestry in families we had assumed belonged to Ashkenazi, Mizrahi or other Jewish sub-groups” points to the potential bomb-shell of knock-on consequences of this controversy concerning a sanctioned Russian oligarch.

As the statement stresses at its outset: “The offer of nationality to people of Sephardic ancestry by the Republic of Portugal and Kingdom of Spain is an honour and privilege. Nobody working in the field should do anything that demeans the  offer or reflects in a negative way on Sephardim.https://www.sephardic.world/code-of conduct 

We regret the abuse of the generosity of the Portuguese and Spanish people and support all efforts to bring clarity to these matters. 

“We ask that legitimate applicants for Portuguese citizenship do not suffer”.

The society estimates that around €150-200 million has been generated by the nationality  schemes in Portugal and Spain, but is “unaware of a single cent being spent on the preservation and perpetuation of the living Sephardic tradition”.

Thus there are political consequences too: “Noting that the Nação Portuguesa, the Western Sephardic diaspora, were Portugal’s first diaspora, the world’s first modern and globalised community, and that they maintain a tradition of historic and current value to Portugal, we petition the Portuguese National  Assembly to amend Decreto-Lei n.º 30-A/2015 to ensure: 

  • Only those of genealogically proven Sephardic ancestry receive citizenship. 
  • Profits from processing nationality applications be used for cultural projects related to the Nação Portuguesa, especially in Portugal.  
  • Documents accompanying approved applications be donated to the Torre do Tombo  (subject to privacy laws) as a permanent memorial to the Sephardic diaspora, and a research tool for future generations of academics”.

David Mendoza adds that the Sephardic Genealogical Society is “training artificial  intelligence software created by the University of Vienna to read 18th Century manuscript documents  of the Portuguese-Jewish diaspora, and hope this is also applicable to documents in Portuguese archives.

“We are in discussion with a major American tech university to create a family tree of the  early modern Western Sephardic diaspora. This will offer insights into the history of the Nação Portuguesa, as well as a greater understanding of globalisation and migration. The Society supports the digitisation and transcription of community records and gravestones.  

“We aspire to bring the annual conference of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies to Portugal. To promote interest in Portugal’s Jewish history, and to encourage tourism, we seek to open educational/visitor centres explaining Sephardic and Inquisition history in the Algarve and eastern Portugal, possibly Castelo Branco”. 

A lot of good could come from what otherwise threatens to descend into a tragic and deeply-embarrassing mess.

Meantime, Roman Abramovich, looking every bit his 55 years, was photographed in the early hours of this morning at Israel’s Tel Aviv airport, apparently waiting for his private jet to fly him to Istabul en-route for Moscow.

The European Union has extended its ‘oligarch blacklist’ to include his name (thus presence within the bloc, even as a Portuguese national, wouldn’t really work for him) and according to media outlet Nexta, he was flying out “after it became known that #Israel had no intention of helping #Russians to hide from European and American #sanctions”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com