By Andrew Warshaw
May 29 – One month after the British government delayed renewing his visa amid increasing diplomatic tension between London and Moscow, Chelsea’s billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich no longer needs one to visit the UK after managing to quickly become an Israeli citizen.
Abramovich, worth an estimated £8.6 billion, exercised his right under Israel’s Law of Return, which grants citizenship to Jews wishing to move there. Passports can be issued immediately.
Israel’s interior ministry confirmed the offer of citizenship on local television with a spokesman saying Abramovich, a regular visitor to Israel, had “arrived at the Israeli embassy in Moscow like any other person.”
“He filed a request to receive an immigration permit, his documents were checked according to the law of return, and he was indeed found eligible.”
Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, his millions of investment bringing instant success though his attendance at home matches has fallen in recent years. The 51-year-old had been travelling in and out of the UK for years on a Tier-1 investor visa, designed for wealthy foreigners who invest at least £2 million in Britain. He applied to renew the visa in April but did not immediately receive approval.
Israeli passport holders, however, can travel to Britain without a visa for short periods of time, and can stay as long as six months.
The British government, which is taking a harder line over Russian oligarchs based in the country, has declined to comment on this specific case but according to the Ynet website, which belongs to Israel’s biggest selling daily newspaper, Yedioth Aharonoth, Abramovich, who did not attend Chelsea’s win over Manchester United in the FA Cup at Wembley on May 19, flew to Tel Aviv on Monday and received documents confirming his status as an Israeli citizen. He has reportedly bought a property in the city.
Unconfirmed sources said the British government would have required certain financial disclosures if Abramovich was to secure a new visa. Although there is no suggestion that the Chelsea owner has been involved in any wrongdoing, relations between Britain and Russia have been strained ever since the poisoning of the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March, an act Britain has blamed squarely on Moscow but in which the Kremlin denies any involvement.
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