Portuguese police raids target Jewish citizenship program attorneys, museum curator

Jewish community cries foul after police search homes, offices of attorneys working to help the descendants of Sephardic Jews obtain Portuguese citizenship.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Portuguese police carried out sweeping raids targeting people who help Sephardic Jews obtain citizenship on Friday, with authorities searching attorneys’ offices and the home of the curator of the Jewish Museum of Porto.

Under Portuguese law, the descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country during the Inquisition are eligible for naturalization.

Tens of thousands of Israelis and diaspora Jews have used the program to obtain Portuguese citizenship, including Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and other high-profile figures.

But recently, Portugal has signaled that it wants to roll back the program after questions arose about the veracity of some applicants who were aided by Jewish community institutions.

According to the local outlet Sol, Friday’s raids saw police searching for evidence of crimes by people involved with Jewish ancestry-based citizenship, who authorities suspect engaged in corruption, forgery of documents, money laundering, tax fraud, and conspiracy.

On Monday, a Jewish community representative said that the government’s investigation into the citizenship process for Jews is rooted in antisemitism.

“I regret that the [citizenship law] has become an antisemitic weapon against wealthy Portuguese citizens, all of whom are, astoundingly, of Jewish origin,” the president of the Porto Jewish community, Gabriel Senderowicz, said in a statement.

“This is nothing more than deception by some powerful state officials in the country who seek to disguise their antisemitic attitudes on the grounds that these businessmen received their citizenship insincerely.”

He added that Portuguese police had a list of 20 Jewish prominent naturalized Portuguese citizens, including Abramovich and Israeli diamond tycoon Lev Leviev, and were ordered to work under the assumption that they had obtained their citizenship illicitly.

In March 2022, police arrested Rabbi Daniel Litvak, who had aided Abramovich in obtaining citizenship, in the northern coastal city of Porto.

Representatives of Porto’s Jewish community denied any wrongdoing and said that Litvak was the victim of a “smear campaign,” according to a Reuters report.