Russian oligarchs' citizenship bids face scrutiny in Portugal

By Catarina Demony

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal is analysing the citizenship applications of two Russian oligarchs - one of whom is under U.S. sanctions, the government said late on Friday, as a law granting passports to descendants of Sephardic Jews faces growing scrutiny.

Russian-Israeli diamond oligarch Lev Leviev and Russian property developer God Nisanov are the latest high-profile Russians known to have applied for citizenship under the legislation.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that Nisanov, who was hit by sanctions following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, was "one of the richest men in Europe and a close associate of several Russian officials".

The two men's citizenship applications are "pending analysis", Portugal's Justice Ministry said in a statement, without giving further details. Representatives for Leviev and Nisanov did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Sanctions-hit Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich was granted citizenship in April 2021 under the same law, a process that triggered an ongoing inquiry at a state agency and forced the government to tighten the rules.

Two years earlier, Russian businessman Andrei Rappoport, who has a net worth of $1.2 billion according to Forbes, also got a Portuguese passport.

Rappoport, whose representatives did not immediately reply to a request for comment, was identified by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2018 as being close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A report in Portugal's Publico newspaper on Wednesday said all four of the oligarchs had applied for Portuguese nationality through Porto's Israeli Community (CIP), which was responsible for vetting their genealogies.

Police are investigating the CIP on suspicion of money laundering, corruption, fraud and falsification of documents.

In a statement on Friday, CIP said the accusations were "false" and all applicants complied with legal requirements to obtain the certificate needed to prove their ancestry. The final stamp of approval is given by the state.

Civic Front, an association that denounces wrongdoing in public life, said all pending nationality processes based on the law in question should be suspended until the state agency inquiry has concluded.

"It is increasingly evident that the naturalisation of Roman Abramovich is not an isolated case," it said in a letter to the justice minister this week.

A spokeswoman for Abramovich previously said he obtained citizenship "in accordance with the rules".

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Helen Popper)