FIRST Minister Alex Salmond has contacted the Lithuanian ambassador to the United Kingdom in a bid to help Hearts complete their exit from administration.
Salmond, a Hearts supporter, remains hopeful that the deal can be completed, although last night both club administrator Bryan Jackson of BDO and a spokesperson for the Foundation of Hearts said there had been no further developments.
Jackson is still awaiting an invitation to return to Lithuania to resume talks with his counterparts at Ukio Bankas. Those talks stalled last week, on the same day that creditors of Ubig, another company formerly controlled by Vladimir Romanov, approved the sale of their 50 per cent share in the Tynecastle club.
Ukio have a smaller shareholding of just under 30 per cent, but hold a security over Tynecastle. If they agree to sell both shares and security, Hearts will be able to proceed with the Company Voluntary Arrangement they have made with the Foundation, the supporters’ umbrella body which aims to buy control for £2.5million.
Jackson warned last week that the club was fast running out of money, and that a deal had to be finalised by around the end of this month. Foundation chairman Ian Murray, the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South, has also said that his organisation needs to complete the takeover soon in order to allow planning for next season to begin.
Murray and Lord Foulkes, a former chairman of Hearts, have had several meetings with ambassador Asta Skaisgiryte-Liauskiene in recent months in the hope of speeding up the process. It remains uncertain how much direct influence any politician can have on the arcane workings of the Baltic republic’s legal system, but Salmond believes that he too should be seen to be doing everything he can.
“At the request of the Hearts administrators I phoned the Lithuanian ambassador to try and facilitate the important moves that are being made,” the First Minister said yesterday. “I should say I’m a Hearts supporter, obviously, I declare an interest, but I’ve made the same approaches when necessary with other football clubs in Scotland who’ve been similarly struggling.
“And of course I would always do that as First Minister, because it’s part of the First Ministerial role to help Scottish football, to help Scottish clubs when you can. And I’m sure that everyone in Scottish football, whatever team they support, wants to see Hearts back fighting fit, and part of the firmament of our national game.”
Salmond declined to give details of his talks other than to suggest they had been positive. “They were helpful conversations and of course progress has been made,” he continued. “But the people behind the eight ball here are the administrators, and like every other Hearts fan in the country, I’m anxious to see more progress made. However, we know progress has been made and we’re hoping that things will reach a successful conclusion.”
Unless Ukio’s creditors come to an agreement with BDO soon, Jackson would appear to have little option but to start planning for the liquidation of the football club.
Hearts should be able to fulfil their fixtures for the rest of the season – they have five league games left, starting with a home match on Saturday against Ross County – but as things stand they will have no money to continue on into next season.
Last night Labour peer Lord Foulkes welcomed the First Minister’s intervention, while pointing out that similar activity had been going on behind the scenes for some time. “It is good he is supporting Ian Murray and me who are in regular contact with Lithuanian ambassador & UK ambassador in Lithuania,” he said on Twitter.