A global effort examining one of Russia’s richest men, Roman Abramovich, has ricocheted out, ensnaring a rabbi in Portugal, confusing the process of selling the billionaire’s British football team and freezing some of its US-held funds.
Representatives for Mr. Abramovich did not return requests for comment.
A prominent Portuguese rabbi who helped Mr Abramovich obtain Portuguese citizenship was arrested on Thursday as part of a wider investigation in Portugal into allegations of influence peddling, forgery, money laundering and of tax evasion, according to people familiar with the matter.
The rabbi, Daniel Litvak, oversees in Porto the process of certifying Portuguese citizenship claims based on descent from Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the 15th century.
The Jewish Community of Porto, the organization issuing the certificate, said there was a “smear campaign” against it. Mr. Abramovich obtained his Portuguese nationality last year. He also holds Israeli and Russian nationality.
Mr Abramovich’s UK sanction also upset the sale of his football club Chelsea FC, a process he initiated just before he was put on Britain’s target list. An initial deadline for offers for the club was set for Tuesday, but that process is now in disarray as advisers and people close to Mr Abramovich try to work out how to move forward, according to people who know him well.
The UK Treasury said Mr Abramovich should apply for a license to exempt any sale of the club from UK sanctions.
Chelsea bosses, meanwhile, are pressuring the government to ease some of the terms of a separate license granted to the club under which it can continue to operate, according to people familiar with the matter. One of those restrictions is a spending cap of £20,000, or around $26,000, for travel to away games. Chelsea’s next game on Sunday will be at home.
UK sanctions have had other ripple effects in London, spawning a series of rules that upend even routine dealings with Mr Abramovich’s properties, including blocking rent payments he owes the Queen Elizabeth.
In the United States, a number of hedge fund firms that have Mr. Abramovich’s investments have been asked to freeze his assets, The Wall Street Journal previously reported. Mr. Abramovich had been trying to sell interests in funds on the secondary market since at least the end of February, the Journal reported.
UK agencies, like those of other governments, including the US, have the power to temporarily freeze the assets of individuals or entities within their jurisdiction, without proving criminality. In some cases, they may ask other governments to cooperate.
Owners are generally prohibited from selling or benefiting from them until sanctions are lifted or successfully challenged. However, governments generally cannot take ownership of assets except after lengthy legal proceedings that would require proof of breach of law. The UK government, however, is considering laws that would give it the power to seize sanctioned assets.
Mr Abramovich’s two megayachts – objects of fascination among yacht aficionados – have gained a wider following amid sanctions efforts. Easy-to-access online ship tracking sites reported their movements and those of other sanctioned Russian oligarchs in near real time.
A handful of yachts belonging to EU-sanctioned Russian billionaires have been seized in recent days by authorities in France and Italy. Mr. Abramovich has not been sanctioned by the EU.
Mr Abramovich’s 533ft superyacht Eclipse passed through the Strait of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean on Saturday afternoon, after leaving Philipsburg, in the Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean, on March 3, according to ship tracking site FleetMon. The 460ft My Solaris, meanwhile, arrived in Tivat, Montenegro on Friday after departing Barcelona, Spain three days earlier, according to FleetMon.
In the Portugal case, authorities opened a criminal investigation earlier this year into allegations that Rabbi Litvak falsely attested to the Sephardic origins of Mr Abramovich and others, according to a statement from the Porto Jewish Community. published on March 6.
Rabbi Litvak was questioned by Portuguese authorities on Friday evening and released, but he is banned from leaving the country or having contact with other suspects in the case, according to state broadcaster RTP.
—Benoit Faucon and Francis X. Rocca contributed to this article.
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