FORMER Hearts chief Vladimir Romanov has surfaced in Russia, where it is being claimed he lied about a health scare in order to leave Lithuania and escape prosecution.
Earlier this week, Lithuanian authorities claimed they had no idea where the businessman was, claiming they were unable to act on reports the 66-year-old was in Moscow, adding that they could not ask their Russian counterparts to deport Romanov as his presence there has not been confirmed by official documents.
A spokesman for the Lithuanian General Prosecutor admitted: “We cannot provide a legal reason to go to [Russia] and ask for international legal assistance. We continue to carry out all legal avenues to bring Mr Romanov to face the public prosecutor.”
An international arrest warrant was issued for the tycoon to return to his adopted homeland of Lithuania in order to face prosecution for the non-payment of debts connected to the collapse of his Ukio Bankas, one of Hearts’ major shareholders.
He was reportedly receiving treatment in a Moscow hospital for a stroke, but was pictured sunning himself on a Russian beach – a photo which caused outrage in Lithuania. His disappearance from the former Soviet republic coincided with the Tynecastle club’s descent into administration.
Lithuanian sources reported in June that Romanov’s doctors had sent a medical certificate to the country’s Financial Crime Investigation Service, but prosecutor Simon Minkevicius claimed the documents were incomplete, adding: “The certificate is missing some required particulars...it raises a certain amount of doubt.”
And now recent reports from the Russian capital suggest that Romanov has been attending basketball matches in the city, while boasting about escaping prosecution.
A reporter for Russian news agency RIA, Nadezhda Perepekova, told a Lithuanian morning TV show: “[Romanov] is in Moscow. He has been here all the time since he left Lithuania. It was some kind of story that he had a heart problem and went to hospital.
“But he is healthy and just went to Moscow and goes to CSKA basketball games. He said he health was okay and it was just an excuse to get out of Lithuania because the bank went bankrupt.
“I didn’t ask about the problems since we met at a basketball game so we talked about sports.”
Documents released last month showed that Romanov transferred £12 million from one of his accounts into his own bank at the time Hearts’ problems began. The sum poured into Ukio Bankas was used to increase capital in the bank.
The tycoon is now facing embezzlement charges in Kaunas after papers from the Bank of Lithuania show he paid himself the money. If found guilty, the 66-year-old could face up to seven years in jail.
In an interview given shortly after confirming he was broke, Romanov joked that he would return to his former job of driving taxis, adding: “On the day when my bank activities were halted, all my accounts were frozen, including my bank cards.
“I was left only with the money in my pocket. I was forced to borrow money from friends and immediately sell my property to raise funds.”