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Abramovich joins more than 30 Russian Jewish tycoons in Israel

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ARON HELLER

Abramovich received his Israeli citizenship on Monday upon arriving in Israel on his private jet, immediately becoming the country’s richest person, with an estimated net worth of more than $11 billion (R138 billion). Israel grants automatic citizenship to anyone of Jewish descent.

The Chelsea football club owner made the move after his British visa was not renewed, apparently as part of British authorities’ efforts to crack down on associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Britain has pledged to review the long-term visas of rich Russians in the aftermath of the March poisonings of Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury. Britain blames Russia for the pair’s exposure to a nerve agent, an allegation Moscow denies.

The poisonings sparked a Cold War-style diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West, including the expulsion of hundreds of diplomats from both sides. Britain’s then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd said in March that the British government was reviewing Tier 1 investor visas granted to about 700 wealthy Russians.

The British government said it would not comment on individual cases, including Abramovich’s. Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said visa applications from Russia are dealt with “rigorously and properly”.

It’s not clear yet how much time Abramovich will spend in Israel. He owns an upscale home in the trendy Neve Tzedek neighbourhood of Tel Aviv that he bought several years ago from Yaron Versano, the husband of Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot. His representative would not respond to questions about his plans, calling it “a private matter”.

Abramovich is perhaps the most high-profile Russian oligarch to relocate to Israel, but hardly the first.

Alex Kogan, a journalist who has covered the Russian oligarch phenomenon in Israel for the local Russian-language press, said that 30 to 40 tycoons have taken Israeli citizenship or residency, with most staying only part time or temporarily because of scrutiny over their affairs.

He said the oligarchs – businessmen who accumulated massive wealth in the privatisation process which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union – were motivated by various interests. Some fled Russia because of financial irregularities or dramatic fallouts with Putin that could put them at risk of incarceration.

Others were closer to the government and sought the advantages of an Israeli passport, such as visa-free entry to the European Union.

And some were drawn by tax breaks for new immigrants to Israel. They are also more protected in Israel against the threat of extradition, for real or trumped-up charges.

The ancient Jewish State of Israel was revived by UN mandate after World War II, too late to save millions of Jews from the Nazi Holocaust, but guarantees citizenship for anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent – the Nazi criterion – to ensure it serves as a haven for Jews escaping persecution.

“Everyone has different reasons,” said Kogan. “There are plenty more out there that could come in a short time.”

Some billionaires, like Mikhail Fridman and German Khan, have taken up Israeli citizenship while still maintaining their primary residences in London and Moscow. They maintain a strong presence in Israel owing to their charitable work, such as setting up the private foundation that funds the annual Genesis Prize, known as “the Jewish Nobel Prize”.

 

  • Times of Israel staff contributed to this article.

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