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Hearts owner facing arrest in bank embezzlement inquiry

HEARTS owner Vladimir Romanov is suspected of large-scale embezzlement at the collapsed Lithuanian bank where he was former majority shareholder, according to the country's prosecutors.

WARRANT: Lithuanian prosecutors have issued an international arrest warrant for  Vladimir Romanov, who is thought to be in Russia. Picture: Getty Images
WARRANT: Lithuanian prosecutors have issued an international arrest warrant for Vladimir Romanov, who is thought to be in Russia. Picture: Getty Images

An international arrest warrant has been issued in an effort to bring the elusive businessman back from Russia. He is wanted for questioning over alleged crimes that, if he was convicted, would see him jailed for up to seven years.

Ukio Bankas, in which Romanov was a majority owner, is the focus of the allegations.

Simonas Minkevicius, of the Lithuanian prosecutor general's office, told Baltic News Service yesterday the call for the international search was made about four weeks ago, adding that move came "immediately after a procedural framework emerged".

He said: "Mr Romanov is a suspect in the case, he is suspected of large-scale embezzlement of Ukio Bankas assets. The suspect is yet to be interviewed, therefore his position on the incriminated actions is not known."

Vilma Mazone, from the General Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Lithuania, added: "V Romanov has been recognised as a suspect and is suspected of having squandered high-value property belonging to the bank Ukio Bankas.

"We cannot state yet the exact value of the squandered property, as its amount has not been established yet.

"Laws of the Republic of Lithuania provide that a person who has committed the above mentioned criminal offence shall be punished by imprisonment for a term of up to seven years.

"As there were reasonable doubts regarding (the) whereabouts of V Romanov, on July 4 the prosecutor passed the decision to announce a search for him; on the same day that decision was forwarded to the police for execution."

The prosecutor general's office launched a pre-trial investigation into the possible suspect dealings including the embezzlement of assets at Ukio Bankas in February, based on information provided by the central bank of Lithuania about suspicious transactions between 2005 and 2012.

Romanov is believed to be in Moscow. It was reported he had earlier suffered an illness and undergone treatment in the Russian capital.

Prosecutors and investigators from the country's financial crime investigation service received a document from Russian doctors about three months ago saying the former owner of Ukio Bankas had suffered a stroke.

Lithuanian officials want to question Romanov in the Ukio Bankas bankruptcy case over the alleged embezzlement of 50 million litas, or £12m.

Under international procedures Russian officials have to identity Romanov's whereabouts and provide information to Lithuanian prosecutors.

But it was also claimed there was concern among Lithuanian officials of Romanov's citizenship status and how it would affect plans for an extradition.

Romanov is an ethnic Russian who also holds Lithuanian citizenship following that country's independence from the Soviet Union.

It has been claimed he is being protected in Moscow by people connected to Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya.

Russia rarely extradites its citizens and has refused to do so.

It is unclear whether the new development involving Lithuanian prosecutors will affect the administration process at Hearts.

More than 200 businesses,­ ­individuals and public bodies are owed money after the club went into administration with debts of around £29m. Hearts' administrator BDO has announced an initial meeting of creditors next week.

In addition to the £29m debt, shares in the club amount to £14.6m, which brings the total deficit to around £44m.

Ukio, whose administrator rejected initial but ongoing bids for the club to be unacceptable, owns almost 30% of Hearts.

Ukio Bankas administrator Gintaras Adomonis last week told BDO to continue negotiations with fans' group the Foundation of Hearts and Five Stars Football Ltd, which lists controversial former Livingston owner Angelo Massone as a director. A third offer placed by HMFC Ltd was rejected outright.

Hearts owe £10m to Ukio Bankas' parent company UBIG, which owns 50% of the club plc shares, but these had been frozen after Ukio, which it also owned, entered an insolvency process with debts of around £380m.

Activities of Ukio Bankas were halted in February and its license was revoked.

A BDO spokesman said: "What happens to Mr Romanov is unlikely to have any direct relevance to the administration process."

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