HEARTS have entered talks with Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs in a new attempt to remove the imminent threat of liquidation.
The Tynecastle board yesterday presented a payment plan to HMRC officials for the unpaid £450,000 bill which could put the club out of business within days. HMRC want that sum paid on Thursday or else it will pursue a winding-up order on Friday.
Both the Thursday deadline and the £450,000 figure remain unchanged after yesterday's discussions but Hearts hope that HMRC may be prepared to accept a downpayment on Thursday and the rest of the money in instalments over the coming months.
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It is understood that HMRC will inform the club today or tomorrow about whether it is prepared to accept the payment plan. But one Tynecastle source described HMRC's willingness even to discuss the club's proposal as "a chink of light".
So far, more than £200,000 has been raised by supporters responding to the Edinburgh club's desperate appeal for "emergency backing" to meet the HMRC bill. Furthermore, it emerged last night that a group of Hearts fans have held tentative talks with the club about a prospective takeover from Vladimir Romanov.
It's thought the group have met with Sergejus Fedotovas, a club director and Romanov's right-hand man, both before and after last week's plea. Some of those involved in potentially launching a takeover bid are described as having 'business interests'. The group, for the time being at least, are keen to keep their identities a secret, owing to the sensitive nature of talks.
It is not clear what response, if any, they have had from Romanov but the Russian-born businessman has been perceived as notoriously difficult to negotiate with in the past. Last November, Romanov, who assumed control from Chris Robinson in 2005, valued Hearts at an unrealistic £50m, even though the club's last financial results revealed a debt of £24m.
The banker has lost interest in football and, through his investment company, UBIG, is no longer willing to fund Hearts out of his own pocket. That is why the Tynecastle club have been pushed to the brink of extinction through the hefty tax bill that is due in the coming days.
Fedotovas said last weekend Romanov was still waiting for a party to make him a serious offer for his shareholding. "I think Mr Romanov will have a discussion with anyone willing to invest or buy the club," Fedotovas said. "The only difficulty is that there are a lot of people pretending they want to buy this club and pretending they have the money. They're not able to demonstrate they would be able to support the business."
Following frenzied cash-raising efforts by Hearts fans since Wednesday's plea, it is estimated the club are around halfway to raising the money to stave off the order.
The outlook for Romanov's Ukio Bankas was not looking good yesterday, however, after the Lithuanian company's shares fell to an eight-year low on the Vilnius stock exchange. The business has now lost a quarter of its value in a month. Shares fell seven percent to €0.12.
Finasta investment bank analyst Tadas Povilauskas said: "If Romanov hasn't rescued his soccer club and hasn't increased the share capital of Ukio Bankas as was planned some time ago, it probably means he just can't find the money."