Portugal has given Portuguese passports to 16 Russian Jewish oligarchs “close to Putin”

Exposé analyses 115 names that have “escaped public knowledge”

The number of Russians holding Portuguese passports as a result of the Golden Visa regime, and the Nationality Law – designed to ‘welcome back’ Sephardic Jews expelled from Portugal during the Inquisition – remains very much under wraps. But Expresso has done some ‘digging’ to release an exposé this week detailing how 16 oligarchs close to Russian president Vladimir Putin are now ‘Portuguese citizens’. 

Many more Russian Jews with interesting backgrounds share the same privilege, and have thus been able to “get round banking restrictions” applied against Russian citizens since Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, says the paper.

These include Russian Jews issued with certificates by CIP (the Jewish Community of Porto) which is still under investigation for alleged illegalities in the way in which it came to its conclusions that applicants were truly the descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from Portugal in the 16th century.

The first real ‘storm’ erupted over the naturalisation process of the former owner of Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich

Abramovich’s credentials were personally vouched for by Alexander Boroda, described by Expresso as the “second most influential Jew in Russia” – and himself a Portuguese citizen.

As the paper explains, “for four months we analysed 115 names that escaped public knowledge, and 25 of them, including Boroda, revealed profiles considered relevant, either for the professional positions they occupied or occupy, or because of their personal relationships”.

A cross-referencing of these names with the Anti-Corruption Foundation, left journalists Luciana Leiderfarb and Micael Pereira able to discover that 16 names on the list of 25 have already received Portuguese nationality. 

“The rest, even though they had received their certification (as descendants of Sephardic Jews) from CIP, have not yet had the same luck. Their applications are still with the IRN (Institute of Registrars and Notaries)”.

These are Russian nationals over and above those who have already been written about in some detail by the press.

Since the ‘furore’ of Operation Open Door – which saw CIP’s operation thrown into question, arrests and accusations of corruption, falsification, money laundering, fiscal fraud and the trafficking of influences – CIP has pulled out of the naturalisation process; demanded a public apology, and perhaps most relevant, the Nationality Law has been ‘tightened’ to the extent that applications from people like Mr Abramovich would today not qualify for certification.

However, the tightened rules for receiving nationality do not affect applicants whose requests were already in the system prior to the changes (applied in March 2022). 

Some of these have been in the system for years. One, for example, lodged by a 43 year old economist, has been pending at IRN since 2015. Another, issued with CIP certification in 2020, refers to the daughter of a former member of the Russian ministry of defence who currently works for a company manufacturing electronic warfare equipment. The company is part of a conglomerate formed “through a decision by Putin” and under EU sanctions since the occupation of Crimea. 

As Expresso’s “the new Portuguese of Vladimir Putin” explains, if this application is cleared by IRN for concession of nationality, the woman could, in theory, apply for her father to be given Portuguese residency. The paper cites anti-corruption activist João Paulo Batalha of Frente Cívica saying it is “not rare” that the daughter of a highly exposed Russian would serve as a bridge for the latter to acquire assets outside of Russia.

Questions to CIP over whether the community concerned itself with the activities of applicants seeking certification – or their potential links to people close to the Putin regime – met with the answer that the process was solely focused on ‘certifying Russian Jews with Portuguese origins.

“It is up to the Portuguese government to approve nationality on a case-by-case basis, depending on their discretionary powers which include criteria of opportunity”, said a source for CIP, reiterating: “Whether they are rich or poor, whether they are linked to the Kremlin or not, is something the community does not need to know, even less accept that only Jewish billionaires and no others from any other country should be called oligarchs”.

And it is here that the handling of these issues by the Portuguese government comes under some criticism.

The Golden Visa regime “represented another port of entry for many Russian citizens of questionable profile”, says the article. This is well documented and one of the reasons for the regime changing radically over the years.

Activist and diplomat Ksenia Ashrafullina, living in Lisbon, stresses that “there are wealthy people who are legitimate. But for us not to judge those that do not deserve it, the Portuguese State should share the names of all those who have been awarded Golden Visas” – and to date, it hasn’t, in spite of all the calls to do so.

Ashrafullina doesn’t mince her words: “Portugal rolled out the red carpet to oligarchs who financed Putin’s war”.

Expresso’s exposé, in this week’s ‘E’ magazine, is full of names and connections, linking countless Russians, either ‘Golden Visa holders’  or ‘naturalised Sephardic Jews’, to big business/ major players in Russia, invariably sanctioned.

“Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine there exists a directive by the Portuguese government suspending the concession of Golden Visas to Russian citizens. But, without legislation to support it, it sits in a legal void – the first consequence of which is to impede processes underway from being annulled”, Expresso’s article goes on.

Karina Carvalho of Transparency International Portugal explains: “There are people who having begun the process for attribution of a Golden Visa, on seeing it suspended, have taken the State to court to make sure it complies with what it promised”. 

In one of these instances, the court condemned SEF (foreigners and borders agency) to issuing a visa, she said.

Portugal is also “not applying EU sanctions on Russian citizens”, João Paulo Batalha tells the paper.

“The government left Brussels with a list of people and sanctioned entities, distributed it to authorities and necessary entities (like banks), and did absolutely nothing else. The result is clear to see: Portuguese banks froze what they found – a total of €25 million – but no one actively went after assets”.

Earlier this week, the country heard that the justice ministry is fast tracking applications in the pipeline for Portuguese nationality, namely to help Israelis with Sephardic Jew heritage.

The wording of the announcement referred to requests being accelerated ‘in their generality’, leaving the possibility open to the fact that requests by Russians may not get the same attention as requests by Israelis ND

Portugal Resident