Chelsea owner Abramovich 'granted Israeli citizenship'

Israeli media say Russian billionaire flew into Tel Aviv to collect documents on Monday

FILE PHOTO: Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club Roman Abramovich arrives at Commercial Court in London January 19, 2012. REUTERS/Olivia Harris/File Photo

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, the owner of top-flight English football club Chelsea, took Israeli citizenship on Monday after reportedly facing difficulties getting a visa to return to Britain.

Israeli media reported that Mr Abramovich had arrived in Tel Aviv and received documents confirming his status as an Israeli citizen. An Israeli immigration absorption ministry spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports but a spokeswoman for the Population Administration which oversees border control confirmed that the billionaire was in Israel.

Mr Abramovich has been counted as one of the richest men in Britain since he bought the English Premier League soccer club in 2003. His British visa expired last month and sources have said it was taking longer than usual to get it renewed. The British government has declined to comment on his case.

Relations between Moscow and London have been strained since the poisoning of former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal in Britain in March, an act Britain has blamed on Russia but in which the Kremlin denies any involvement.

Israel grants citizenship to any Jew wishing to move there, and a passport can be issued immediately. Israeli passport holders can enter Britain without a visa for short stays, although they require visas to work there.

Mr Abramovich has been a regular visitor to Israel and is reported to have bought a property that was formerly a hotel in an old Tel Aviv neighbourhood close to the Mediterranean shore.