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A Portuguese rabbi says he was arrested in connection with an investigation into how Roman Abramovich obtained citizenship

A chief rabbi in Portugal’s second-largest city has been arrested amid an investigation into how Roman Abramovich, the Russian Jewish oligarch sanctioned this week in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, got Portuguese nationality last year.

Rabbi Daniel Litvak of the Porto Jewish Community, an organization representing the city’s Jews, was arrested yesterday as he was about to leave for Israel, according to the Portuguese news agency Publico.

Several Portuguese agencies investigated whether Abramovich’s citizenship had been properly granted under Portugal’s 2013 law allowing the naturalization of descendants of Sephardic Jews. The law represented an attempted atonement 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.

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

The Porto Jewish community did not immediately respond to a question from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about Litvak’s detention.

Publico reports that investigators are examining whether “influence peddling, active bribery, falsification of documents, money laundering” and other crimes played a role in how Porto granted citizenship. Portuguese criminal investigators conducted additional raids, the news agency reports.

The investigation into how Porto’s Jewish community granted citizenship to Sephardic Jews began long before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine last month.

But the war has heightened scrutiny of Abramovich and others linked to Putin. The UK, where he lives and owns Chelsea football club, placed him under sanctions for the first time on Thursday.

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