Monday, November 29

A police alert for fraud triggers denials of nationality to Sephardic Jews | Spain

David, a 21-year-old young man born in the Mexican capital, waits his turn on September 30, in the last hours of the deadline to request Spanish nationality from descendants of Sephardim.
David, a 21-year-old young man born in the Mexican capital, waits his turn on September 30, in the last hours of the deadline to request Spanish nationality from descendants of Sephardim.Mario Guzman / EFE

A police letter sent to the Ministry of Justice at the end of 2018 set off alarms. The agents warned of the existence of a criminal organization and possible fraud in the processing of Spanish nationality by descendants of Sephardim. The information came from the Spanish embassy of a Latin American country. The police office radically changed the way of studying the applications, pushed the officials to look closely at the files and caused a torrent of denials when it was found that, in thousands of them, the requirements of the law were not met. The more than 3,000 claims rejected in recent months have sparked heated controversy. Some Jewish communities and a handful of lawyers accuse the government of anti-Semitism and of changing the criteria for approving files. The PP has already asked for explanations. Justice and the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain deny it and see only the application of greater zeal (previously practically nonexistent) in the process.

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The descendants of Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula and were forced to leave Spain in 1492 have had a specific law since 2015 to request Spanish nationality without renouncing theirs. Promoted by the then Minister of Justice of the PP, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, the rule sought a “historical repair.” To obtain the Spanish passport, the interested parties, among other things, have to prove their origins with a certificate from the Jewish community of their country of birth or residence and prove their link with Spain. The law delegated to the notaries the compilation and verification of the documentation and Justice reserved the final study of the file, the verification of penalties and their approval.

During all these years practically none of the candidates had problems to pass the procedure. Until 2020, 20,908 requests had been favorably resolved and only one had been rejected, according to data from the Ministry of Justice. But when the police notice triggered the alert, Justice sources admit that it was discovered that thousands of candidates were registering petitions without meeting all the requirements, and that, among other things, certificates had been provided from Jewish communities from countries without ties to the applicants. or that the documents were presented before a notary by proxy when the law requires it to be done in person. The files had passed the initial filter of notaries and the department of the ministry responsible for nationalities, which suffers from a chronic lack of personnel with just over 30 officials, ended up granting passports by verifying only the criminal record.

After verifying that the procedure could be improved, it was decided, according to the same sources, to prioritize and approve the files without a shadow of a doubt and to park the questionable ones. A circular was also sent to notaries, in October 2020, warning them of the defects detected in the notoriety acts and urging them to be extremely zealous when accepting the documents that were presented. The reinforcement of 100 officials to process these and other nationalities has also made it possible to study each file in more detail. The strategy was revealed this year, when 15,274 more nationalities were granted, but 3,019 were denied.

One of the main reasons for refusal has been the presentation of certificates of descent issued by Jewish communities that have nothing to do with the applicant’s place of origin or residence. For years these reports sneaked in, not because they were valid, but because the documents were not reviewed with the attention they required, Justice sources explain. “The criteria have not changed and are in the law,” they maintain.

Denied files frequently feature a Jewish community that served thousands of Latin American citizens who aspired to become Spanish. The Jewish Federation of New Mexico (United States) claims to have issued some 20,000 certificates and has been one of those that has risen up against the Government. He accuses him of changing the rules of the game and imposing new requirements and defends the rigor of his procedures. Sara Koplik, director of the New Mexico federation’s Sephardic heritage program, is one of the rejected applicants and sees “anti-Semitism” in the high volume of denials. “We believe that Justice is not examining the cases carefully and is simply rejecting the applicants because they do not want Sephardim to become citizens,” he maintains.

Koplik is not alone and several lawyers and managers, who concentrate a huge percentage of the files presented, accuse the Executive of imposing new criteria and sowing doubts about the work of Jewish communities and notaries. Luis Portero, who participated in the negotiation of the text of the law, is one of these lawyers. He claims to have processed more than 12,000 nationality files and defends that the law allows other means of proof to be provided to certify ancestry so that, unlike what Justice maintains, certificates from other countries outside the applicant would be valid. The lawyer, after seeing how 600 of his clients have been rejected, defends that the Administration has changed its criteria and is demanding new requirements. “The work of Jewish communities around the world is being questioned and the public faith of notaries is being questioned. It is being accused of fraud and it is not true ”, he denounces.

With the controversy going on in networks and in the political sphere, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, which has universal competence to prove the ancestry of any applicant living where he lives, has rejected the possibility of speaking of anti-Semitism. “The resolutions of the files have at no time been conditioned on political decisions, as some intend to imply, but on compliance with the law,” says a spokeswoman. “If the files do not meet the requirements of the law, are not well presented or have incorrect documentation, it is normal for them to be denied.” The Federation also recalls that the granting of nationality to Sephardim is not linked to confession but to the Judeo-Spanish origin and that there is a majority of non-Jews who have obtained their passports.

Another lawyer, Alberto de Lara Bendahan, who has also spent years processing the nationality of Sephardim, considers that the controversy is unfounded and summarizes what happened succinctly: “The procedure was a drain. They trusted the criteria of the notary, who was the one who assessed the suitability of the documentation, and the ministry was loosely approving them. Suddenly they realized that there were thousands of applications that had ancestry certificates of questionable probative value ”. De Lara recalls that the management of all these thousands of files “has meant a very lucrative business opportunity for lawyers, advisers, notaries and some entities that were turned to to support the requests” and that the historical reparation that the law was pursuing did not it was always the main motivation.

In September 2019, the deadline for descendants of Sephardim to apply for nationality ended, although the pandemic gave some margin to the times. In total, since the approval of the law, 63,873 petitions have been received and 36,182 have already been approved, the bulk between 2020 and 2021. In the drawers and waiting for the documents to pass through the notary, there are still to be resolved –– now with lupa–– some 50,000 more applications still in process.

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