Vladimir Romanov freed after extradition rejected

Health concerns: Vladimir Romanov. Picture: TSPL
Health concerns: Vladimir Romanov. Picture: TSPL
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FORMER Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov was dramatically freed from detention last night after a Russian judge rejected an extradition demand from Lithuania.

His release throws into disarray an attempt to investigate the 67-year-old over a €14.5 million (£12 million) embezzlement allegations.

A hearing on Tuesday was closed to both the press and the public, but it was reported that he add­ressed the judge, Elena Pospelova, from a metal cage.

After the hearing, his lawyer said the former banking tycoon was fighting both the extradition demand and detention.

Romanov returned to the court again last night, where his lawyer, Vladimir Filimonov, argued that the investigation into financial irr­egularities linked to his former Ukio Bankas, a commercial bank in Lithuania, was based on a “political vendetta” against him.

It is understood that JudgePospelova considered the case for three hours before ruling there were significant “irregularities” with the extradition paperwork provided by the Lithuanian authorities.

Two doctors were present in court due to the concerns over Romanov’s health. Friends said that he was suffering from ill-health linked to a heart complaint that re-surfaced when he was seized by police in the Russian capital.

His lawyer also confirmed that Romanov was applying for Russian citizenship because the Russian constitution forbids the deportation of its citizens.

The decision by the Russian court is likely to provoke a storm of protest in Lithuania. Romanov had lived in Lithuania since childhood and left the country in early May 2013.

Lithuanian prosecutors claimed that he transferred £12m from one of his own financial accounts into Ukio Bankas at the time Hearts’ financial problems began. The funds put into the bank, one of Hearts’ majority shareholders, were used to shore up the bank’s capital.

Suspicion of embezzlement arose after papers from the Bank of Lithuania showed that he had paid the money to himself.

Ukio is currently in administration and its assets have been transferred to another bank.

It was also claimed he had fabricated the health scare in order to leave his adopted homeland and escape prosecution.

Before he arrived at Hearts, Mr Romanov had made approaches to Dundee, Dundee United and Dunfermline, which were all rejected. Hearts went into administration last year and have now been relegated from the Scottish Premiership.