JTA – Since March, Rabbi Daniel Litvak has been required to report three times a week to a judge’s office in Porto, the Portuguese city, where he is accused of submitting false citizenship applications to Sephardic Jews. His passports were confiscated and he was prevented from contacting the lawyer representing the other defendant in the criminal case against him.
On Thursday, the Lisbon Court of Appeal decided to cancel these binding measures. The court also criticized the Portuguese prosecutors for the way they handled the case against Litvak, according to the Portuguese newspaper. espresso.
The report stated: “The accused, in the exercise of his duties, is said to have had privileged knowledge and relations … which allowed him to give him priority in applications for citizenship for Sephardic Jews.” Judgment, according to espresso. But there is not a single fact that supports this conclusion, which is the identification of officials who have privileged relations with the applicant and, most importantly, what those relations and privileges consist of. »
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The ruling does not end the criminal case against Litvak, the Argentine-Israeli who was arrested in March as he was preparing to travel to Israel. But the decision allows him to leave the country freely and deals a major blow to the trial in what a Porto Jewish leader called “the biggest attack on a Jewish community in Europe in the 21st century”.
Litvak’s arrest comes amid investigations by several Portuguese agencies into how Roman Abramovich, an oligarchic Russian-Jewish businessman, was able to obtain Portuguese citizenship under a 2013 law allowing the naturalization of descendants of Sephardic Jews. This law was an attempt to atone for the Inquisition, the religious persecution that occurred in Spain and Portugal in the sixteenth century and forced tens of thousands of Jews to emigrate or to conceal or denounce their Jewish identity.
The government delegated the task of reviewing citizenship applications to two groups, the Jewish community in Lisbon and the Litvak organization in Porto. Tens of thousands of candidates became Portuguese citizens by law—helping to make Porto a Jewish destination—and thanks to a €250 per person fee, the candidates helped solve cash flow problems for the local Jewish community.
Abramovich’s naturalization – which allowed him to obtain an EU passport for the first time – raised questions because most Russian Jews are Ashkenazi and do not have Sephardic roots. But Litvak said in January he was sure the investigation would prove that his organization evaluated Abramovich’s application like any other.
Litvak was arrested several weeks later on charges of tax evasion, document forgery, money laundering and other crimes shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, raising questions about whether Russians like Abramovich, who have close ties to President Vladimir Putin, could flee their country. .
This case drew attention to the divisions between the Porto and Lisbon communities. In June, the leader of the Jewish community in Porto said in a letter to lawmakers that the investigations against Litvak and the community were “the largest attack on the Jewish community in Europe in the twenty-first century” and “the perpetration of a ‘holocaust against families’.” Lisbon has publicly described Sendrovich’s allegations as “ridiculous” and unfounded.
After Litvak’s arrest, his group announced that it would no longer process applications for Sephardic citizenship, leaving only the Jewish community in Lisbon the right to naturalize descendants of Sephardic Jews. It is unclear how many applications are currently pending with the Jewish community in Porto, which has processed thousands of such applications since the citizenship law came into effect in 2015.