Israel grapples with oligarchs as Abramovich flies in and out in a blink

'Like the rest of the world, Abramovich is a big story here in Israel'


He’s one of the wealthiest men alive — and Roman Abramovich’s flying visit to Israel this week provided rich entertainment for the world’s watching media. 

The 55-year-old billionaire’s Gulfstream jet landed in Israel around 9pm on Sunday. Fêted for years by the British establishment, the owner of Chelsea Football Club has now been sanctioned by the UK government.

On Monday, security men paced outside his villa in the upmarket coastal neighbourhood of Herzliya Pituach. He bought the 9,500-square-metre property for £50 million in 2020.

At 2.20pm, a silver armoured car departed, with Abramovich said to have been inside. Shortly afterwards, he was spotted in the VIP lounge at Ben Gurion Airport. His jet later took off for Istanbul and eventually went on to Moscow, with his owner said to have been on board.

Abramovich, who denies close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was among the oligarchs added to the Britain’s sanctions list last week in its bid to isolate Putin over his invasion of Ukraine. Pressure mounts on the Israeli government to follow suit. Abramovich took Israeli citizenship in 2018 when his UK visa was not renewed after the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal on British soil. 

His property holdings in Israel also include a £24million home in the trendy Neve Tzedek neighbourhood of Tel Aviv, bought from Gal Gadot’s husband, and a £45million seafront office block. Last Thursday, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem announced it would suspend ties with Abramovich despite the £2million donation he made to the museum days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“Like the rest of the world, Abramovich is a big story here in Israel. He has Israeli citizenship and Jewish heritage. However, he’s very secretive. . . he’s rarely photographed out and about,” Yoav Borowitz, head of sport at Israeli news channel KAN told the JC. 

The UK’s sanctions against oligarchs prevents them making transactions related to their properties and businesses in the UK. Israel is grappling with how to deal with dozens of Jewish Russian oligarchs. An Israeli senior diplomatic source told the JC: “During his visit to Romania and Slovakia, foreign Minister Yair Lapid publicly committed that Israel won’t be a route to bypass sanctions. That commitment was reaffirmed the next day in a phone call with the Ukrainian foreign minister. ”

Until now, Israel has not imposed its own sanctions on Russia so as to avoid a confrontation with Putin. Lior Haiat, spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), told the JC on Tuesday that the government of Israel created a taskforce that is “an inter-ministerial team led by the deputy legal advisors of the MFA to deal with the effects of the sanction regime that was built by the US and other Western countries”. 

A number of Jewish tycoons from Russia are believed to have taken on Israeli citizenship or residency in recent years, and many of them have recently returned to Israel in light of the current war in Ukraine.

Haaretz newspaper reported that government officials have recently decided to track private jets and yachts owned by  Russian oligarchs to ensure that Israel does not become a tax haven. 

Asked about sanctions against oligarchs, a Kremlin spokesman said: “The Russian economy is going through hardships, but any hardships that we are going through are at the same time an opportunity for development, for renewal, for achieving greater independence, for setting up new industries. 

“We have a good proverb: ‘There is no blessing in disguise.’”

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