Chelsea FC Roman Abramovich's companies donated $100 million to controversial Israeli settler group

Chelsea FC Roman Abramovich's companies donated $100 million to controversial Israeli settler group
The Chelsea FC owner has been revealed as the director of companies that together gave $100 million to Elad, an Israeli settler group accused of displacing Palestinians from East Jerusalem
4 min read
22 September, 2020
Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich is worth an estimated $12.6 billion [Getty]

Companies under the control of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich have donated over $100 million to an Israeli settler organisation accused of forcing Palestinian families out of East Jerusalem, an investigation by BBC News Arabic has revealed.

Leaked documents have identified the Chelsea Football Club owner as the head of three British Virgin Island companies and the director of a fourth, which have together supplied almost half of the donations received by settler group Elad between 2005 and 2018.

Billionaire tycoon Abramovich was granted Israeli citizenship in 2018. He is currently ranked the wealthiest person in Israel and donates hundreds of millions to research and development projects in the country.

Elad seeks to strengthen Jewish presence in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem through funding archaeological tourist sites as well as financially supporting the buying up of Palestinian homes and eviction of Palestinian families using a controversial Israeli law that allows the state to take over property from the local population.

Elad, which calls Silwan the "City of David", runs an archaeological site by the same name which has in recent years become a popular tourist attraction, visited by over a million people a year.

Elad's former Marketing Director, Shahar Shilo, told the BBC that the group's aim is to use tourism "to create a different political reality in the City of David".

The dig - which many say breaks international law by carrying out work on occupied territory - has come under widespread criticism.

EU diplomats have criticised the project as an attempt to erase the ancient city's diverse history in favour of "an exclusively Jewish narrative, while detaching the place from its Palestinian surroundings".

The group has also expanded into helping purchase homes sold by Palestinians to Israeli settlers.

However, the documents also reveal that Elad has been paying the legal costs of eviction cases against several families in the Silwan area.

The evictions are based on a controversial "Absentee Property Law", which enables the Israeli state to take over property of Palestinians who it alleges have left or fled their houses during and after the establishment of Israel.

One such case is that of the Sumarin family, 19 members of which live in a house next door to Elad's Visitor Centre.

When the house's owner Moussa Sumarin died in 1983, it was taken over by the Israeli state and then sold to Hemnutah, a subsidiary of the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

The JNF's stated aim is to buy and develop land on behalf of the Jewish people.

In 1991 Hemnutah went to court to demand the Sumarins' eviction from their home, and a legal battle has endured ever since.

The Sumarin’s lawyer Mohammed Dahle told the BBC that "the probability of the survival of a Palestinian property, after it's been declared that it's a Jewish or Israeli property... is most likely zero".

"It's a situation where one ethnic group makes laws for its own interests, and another ethnic group suffers under these laws," said Dahle.

In August, the family lost its appeal to Jerusalem's district court. Their appeal to Israel's Supreme Court is due to begin in April 2021.

The BBC investigation claims that without Abramovich's funds, Elad would not have been able to expand the Jewish presence in Silwan so quickly.

Elad claims its archaeological work is legal under Israeli law and is necessary in order to preserve Jewish cultural heritage. It also maintained that all their properties have been gained fairly and legally.

A spokesman for Abramovich told the BBC: "Mr Abramovich is a committed and generous supporter of Israeli and Jewish civil society, and over the past 20 years he has donated over five hundred million dollars to support healthcare, science, education and Jewish communities in Israel and around the world."

The names of the four British Virgin Islands companies and their link to Abramovich appeared in a set of leaked financial documents known as the "Fincen Files" obtained by Buzzfeed News and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), who passed them onto the BBC.

The wider investigation has revealed massive sums of allegedly dirty money that has flowed for years through some of the world's largest banking institutions.

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