FORMER Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov has claimed in a rare interview that he faces assassination if he returns home to Lithuania.
The 66-year-old, who has not been seen in public since last October in Moscow where he fled, is evading fraud charges in his adopted homeland, accused of embezzling £12.5 million from his bankrupt Ukio Bankas commercial bank.
In an interview with a Lithuanian journalist, Mr Romanov claimed the Russian secret service had already halted a plot to kill him.
He is reported to have hired three Chechen soldiers as minders, but they did not appear during the interview.
He said: “Russian intelligence services arrested the killers who arrived from Lithuania and had been hired to shoot me down.”
Mr Romanov said he had turned down a deal by prosecutors to return to Lithuania if he paid back £250,000, claiming it was a set-up and he would be given an unfair trial.
He told the interviewer: “They would have tricked me, taken my passport so I wouldn’t have been able to travel. I offered them £25,000 but they didn’t want it.”
Mr Romanov made no mention of Hearts, a team he took over in 2005 and left reeling from £25m debts in 2011. But he continues to travel in a chauffeur-driven car, plotting business deals from his flat in the centre of Moscow, or at a city restaurant.
The Tynecastle club went into administration last June and had 25 points taken away by the Scottish Professional Football League. An international arrest warrant had already been taken out against Mr Romanov and he fled from the city of Kaunas in Lithuania to Moscow.
Hearts owe £15m to Ukio Bankas and £10m to another collapsed firm belonging to Mr Romanov, UBIG. Mr Romanov claimed he had evidence that colleagues at Ukio Bankas are giving evidence against him, and that the firm could have been saved. He said his sister borrowed £250,000 to deposit in the bank to keep them afloat.
He said: “Every one of them [Ukio colleagues] has a policeman following them and blackmailing them – either they give evidence against me, or they go to prison. I do not blame them. I understand the situation. That’s why I live here.”
When asked why he does not do more to prove his innocence on the fraud charges, Mr Romanov said: “I don‘t see any point in fighting. Here in Moscow, one can work and make good money. Why should I waste my energy?”
Mr Romanov, who took part in TV shows such as the Lithuanian edition of Strictly Come Dancing, said he loves his reputation. He added: “Being in the public gave me ardour, the desire to win. Many people find me eccentric. But many people cannot understand it.
“If you spend money on culture and sport in order to be adored, it means you want to control people. I am more interested when things go the opposite way.
“For example, the fans show up holding posters against me and I win. They leave feeling as if someone spat on them. That’s class.”
Lithuania’s chief prosecutor Darius Valys said they were relying on foreign countries to assist with bringing Mr Romanov to justice.
Mr Valys said: “We have no option but to ask foreign countries for legal assistance and request that certain legal procedures be carried out.”