THE president of Lithuania has accused Russia of ‘acting outside international law’, after former Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov - wanted on embezzlement charges - was reportedly detained then released in Moscow earlier this week.
Dalia Grybauskaite said she suspected that Mr Romanov had been released as a result of ‘political pressure’, adding: “If this is confirmed, it’s further proof that Russia is once again defying international obligations and international law.”
Ms Grybauskaite told Lithuanian newspaper Vilniaus Diena that she had received no confirmation of Mr Romanov’s arrest, despite Russian media outlet Interfax reporting yesterday that he had been detained on Monday in the Russian capital and a decision on his extradition to Lithuania would be made in the next few days.
Mr Romanov’s lawyer Adomas Liutvinskas confirmed that the former owner of Ukio Bankas had been freed, adding: “It’s unclear what happened [in Moscow], because I wasn’t there. As far as I know, he was released.”
He added that he was hoping to speak to Mr Romanov at some point in the near future.
Mr Romanov, 67, is facing charges in his adopted homeland of embezzling 50 million litas - around £12 million.
An international arrest warrant was issued by Lithuanian officials in 2013, amid reports that he had fled to Russia.
Mr Romanov claimed that he was in Moscow receiving treatment for a stroke, but a medical certificate reportedly sent by the tycoon’s doctors to officials from Lithuania’s Financial Crimes Investigation Service (FCIS) was ‘missing some required particulars’, according to prosecutor Simon Minkevicius.
Documents released by the FCIS showed that Mr Romanov had transferred 50 million litas from one of his accounts into his own Ukio Bankas at the time Hearts’ financial problems began. The funds poured into Ukio Bankas - one of the Tynecastle club’s majority shareholders - were used to increase the bank’s capital.
Suspicions of embezzlement arose after papers from the Bank of Lithuania showed he had paid the money to himself, and it was claimed he had fabricated the health scare in order to leave his adopted homeland and escape prosecution.
Lithuanian authorities want to question Mr Romanov over the alleged ‘misappropriation and embezzlement’ of funds. If found guilty, he would face up to seven years in prison.
A reporter for Russian news agency RIA told a Lithuanian TV show last year that Mr Romanov was in the Russian capital, and revealed that it was ‘some kind of story’ that he had been suffering from poor health.
Nadezhda Perepekova revealed: “[Mr Romanov] is in Moscow. He has been here all the time since he left Lithuania.
“He is healthy and just went to Moscow and goes to CSKA basketball games. He said his health was okay and it was just an excuse to get out of Lithuania because the bank went bankrupt.”
Mr Romanov went into hiding after his assets were seized by Lithuanian authorities around 12 months ago, and his £250 million business empire fell apart. Ukio Bankas was declared insolvent, with operations suspended by the country’s Central Bank, and the Russian-born businessman’s bank cards and accounts were frozen.
In a television interview with Lithuanian station LNK in March last year, he admitted that he had been left virtually penniless, adding that he had been forced to borrow cash from friends and was contemplating returning to his previous job driving taxis in order to make money.
And last October, Mr Romanov, who also owned basketball side Zalgiris Kaunas and football team FBK Kaunas , sparked fury in Lithuania after pictures emerged showing the tycoon sunning himself on a beach in Russia.
Hearts could not be reached for comment yesterday.