Coverage in the UK media of Roman Abramovich's immigration to Israel focuses on the Russian Jewish billionaire's 'delayed' British visa. The smug English assumption is that the most important thing in Abramovich's life is to gain entry to Britain and to this end he has taken Israeli citizenship so that he can enter the UK without needing a visa.
The matter has even been addressed by Prime Minister Theresa May whose spokesman stressed that Abramovich would not be allowed to work in Britain. He said, “Those with Israeli passports are non-visa nationals, which means they do not need a visa to come to the UK as a visitor for a maximum period of six months. Israelis are required to obtain a visa if they want to live, work or study in the UK.”
Abramovich's Tier 1 visa on his Russian passport, which would allow him to work in the UK, has been 'delayed' as part of the diplomatic spat between Britain and Russia over the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English town of Salisbury earlier this year. Both have since recovered.
Yet in seeing Abramovich's Israeli nationality as a way of getting into the UK through 'the back door,' the British do not seem to have taken two things into account.
Firstly, Abramovich has been a frequent visitor to Israel who has bought a home here, has a strong Jewish identity, made major investments and donations, and has the financial incentive of 10 years tax exemption on overseas earnings.
Secondly, Abramovich likely feels a strong sense of affront and perceives ingratitude at the way the British government is using him as a pawn in its diplomatic campaign against Russia. Since buying Chelsea football club in 2003 and transforming a second rate team into one of the world's greatest clubs, he has been a highly visible presence on the London landscape. He has transferred much of his wealth to Britain, has a palatial home in Kensington, and spent close to half the year there.
The next six months will tell whether the marriage between Abramovich and London has irretrievably broken down. His move to Israel would suggest that his horizons are changing and perhaps he has already decided that the diplomatic slap in the face from the UK government is grounds for divorce. Perhaps he will decide that despite the snub, he cannot do without his passion for Chelsea and need for London business life, and he will indeed take advantage of his Israeli passport to regularly enter the UK. In all probability he has yet to make a final decision.
The question is whether Britain in the age of Brexit can afford to maintain its high-handed approach to Russian oligarchs like Abramovich. London has always been a financial whore, banking the ill-gotten gains of the world's rich with few questions asked. Abramovich's crime as far as the UK government is concerned is not so much how he made his money but his political closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
For the time being Abramovich is in Israel and yesterday he was seen visiting StoreDot, one of the dozen or so startups that he has invested in here. In recent months, he has spent most of his time in Russia and over the summer with the World Cup taking place there he will surely be found in Moscow. After that we will see, but don't be surprised if Chelsea FC and his London home are suddenly put up for sale.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 30, 2018
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