The Portuguese authorities have started working on amendments to the criteria under which descendants of Jews who were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula 500 years ago can gain citizenship.

The move was taken after the majority of European Union countries, as well as the United Kingdom, have cracked on Russian oligarchs and billionaires who gained citizenship or residency in their territory under suspicious circumstances, as another measure against the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military.

According to the Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs Augusto Santos Silva, the amended law on Portuguese citizenship for Jewish descendants would introduce an obligation for applicants to prove that they have an “effective connection with Portugal.” This means that amongst others, those applying for Portuguese citizenship as descendants of expelled Jews need to present proof of frequent visits to the country or inherited property there.

Last year, reported that Russian oligarch and billionaire Roman Abramovich had become a citizen of Portugal in April 2021 under this law, after the UK Home Office had not renewed Abramovich’s UK investor visa in 2018. At the time, Abramovich had also obtained Israeli citizenship under a law that enables all Jewish descendants to become Israeli nationals.

The move to grant Abramovich the right to hold a Portuguese passport was criticized by many, including Alexey Navalny, the number one opponent of the Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“He finally managed to find a country where you can give some bribes and make some semi-official and official payments to end up in the EU and NATO – on the other side of Putin’s frontline, so to speak,” Navalny had said at the time.

Days before Portugal announced that changes would be made to the law offering naturalization to descendants of Sephardic Jews driven out of the Iberian Peninsula during the Inquisition, the authorities had arrested the chief rabbi of the Jewish Community of Oporto for helping Abramovich to gain citizenship.

According to the Guardian, the rabbi named Daniel Litvak is under investigation for the alleged offences of “influence peddling, active corruption, document forgery, money laundering, qualified tax fraud, and criminal association.”

Portugal adopted the law to grant citizenship to descendants of Jews who had been expelled centuries ago, back in 2015, and since then, thousands of Israeli Jews have become Portuguese citizens.

Several other EU countries had in place laws that grant people of Jewish roots the right to naturalization due to their ancestors having been driven away from that particular country, including here Germany, Austria, and Spain.

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