Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire and owner of the Chelsea football club, landed his private Boeing 767 jet in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on Monday, and, exercising the right granted any Jew under the country’s Law of Return, became a citizen and was issued an Israeli identity card. Abramovich, whose fortune is estimated at more than $11 billion, instantly became Israel’s richest man.
The oligarch applied to renew his British visa in April, but the Home Office did not grant him an extension, possibly due to Abramovich’s close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the recent tensions between London and Moscow. With his new Israeli passport, Abramovich would now be able to travel to England and stay for as long as six months at a time. Russian passport holders, on the other hand, must apply for a special visa from the British embassy in Moscow before entering the United Kingdom. Still, representatives of Abramovich told the Israeli press that his aliyah had nothing to do with his recent visa woes, and was motivated by his warm feelings towards Israel and strong identification as a Jew.
Abramovich’s new abode is a hotel in the trendy Tel Aviv neighborhood of Neveh Tzedek, which he bought for more than $27 million from the Israeli actress Gal Gadot. Already an investor in several Israeli startups, including Storedot, makers of a technology that allows for quick battery charging, Abramovich is attracting much interest from the local soccer scene. Avraham Grant, an Israeli soccer legend who is also Abramovich’s friend and the former manager of Chelsea, is reportedly in talks to facilitate the Russian billionaire’s purchase of Hapoel Petach Tikvah, a formerly illustrious club that has fallen on tough times. It won’t be Abramovich’s first foray into Israeli sports: In recent years, he was close to purchasing Hapoel Tel Aviv, one of Israel’s most accomplished teams.
Mazal tov to Abramovich, then, on his aliyah, and may he find in Israel the home that has been eluding him for so long elsewhere.