LITHUANIAN prosecutors have threatened to issue a European arrest warrant for Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov after he failed to appear for questioning over the alleged embezzlement of more than £12 million.
The Lithuanian Financial Crime Investigation Service (FCIS), which is conducting a pre-trial investigation of Romanov’s case together with the General Prosecutor’s Office, started proceedings at the end of April.
It has been reported by the Lithuanian media that the FCIS contacted Romanov, who controls Hearts through 79 per cent of the shares in the club, to relay suspicions concerning the embezzlement of £12.3m relating to the collapse of Ukio Bankas.
The 67-year-old businessman acknowledged the pre-trial notification that he was to be investigated on an embezzlement charge and signed the document, but failed to turn up for questioning and is now thought to be somewhere in Moscow, reportedly recovering from a heart attack.
The lack of detail on his whereabouts has led to speculation in Lithuania that he is being protected by connections to the president of the Republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Romanov was due to be questioning by FCIS on 2 May, but neither he nor his lawyer appeared for what is termed the “first interrogation session” at the service HQ in Vilnius.
Romanov’s spokesman subsequently claimed that he was unable to attend because of the alleged heart attack.
Despite this claim, Lithuanian prosecution services have now threatened to obtain an international arrest warrant for Romanov if he fails to turn up for further questioning sessions.
There have not been any reported sightings of the Hearts owner in months, with conflicting accounts relating to the nature of his health problems.
Romanov subsequently told local news agencies that he had no plans to return to Lithuania.
He said: “I’ve just been released from the hospital – I go back to see the doctor again next week.”
At the time, though, prosecutor Simon Minkevicius had claimed the documents did not contain all of the required information, and demanded greater detail.
He said: “The certificate is missing some required particulars and does not meet our requirements. It raises a certain amount of doubt.”
Last night, on the Hearts fan site Kickback, team supporters reacted to news of the threatened warrant.
“If Mr Romanov needs a place to hide, I will help him, Please god let him be ok. This witch hunt is a disgrace”, wrote one sympathetic poster. Another, called Ratnrave, said: “The entertainment that this guy has provided is amazing.
“There has to be a film made about all this.”
Others expressed their anger at his absence, with Drylaw Hearts commenting: “I hope they catch him, lock him up and throw away the key.”
Although claims that Romanov is currently being guarded by the Chechen president Mr Kadyrov’s bodyguards have not been substantiated, the leader has long-standing close involvement with football, and has business links with the Hearts owner.
Mr Kadyrov served as president of the club from 2004 until late 2011, during which he lavished money on it.
His involvement with the team continues.