Romanov says illness will delay crime probe

HEARTS owner Vladimir Romanov has told Lithuanian prosecutors he will be remaining in Russia for at least another month for medical treatment.

The Tynecastle club are in administration and this week joint administrator Trevor Birch urged the SFA to try to track down Romanov and charge him for his conduct as club owner, and not punish Hearts. But Romanov is also wanted in his homeland on serious charges where he is accused of embezzling £12.5 million after the collapse of his Ukio Bankas bank in Lithuania.

Now he has told the Lithuanian authorities that he will remain in Moscow for another month at least after reportedly suffering a stroke. Romanov stated: “I continue to receive treatment in Moscow and will not be well enough to return home for some time.”

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Financial Crime Investigation Service deputy director Sarunas Rameikis insisted Romanov will soon have to return to answer questions. Rameikis said: “A preliminary investigation has been carried out not only against Vladimir Romanov, but other people at his bank. He will be interviewed by us on his return as instructed by the General Prosecutor’s Office.”

An international arrest warrant was issued for Romanov, but the 67-year-old eventually contacted the Lithuanian authorities.

Hearts went into administration last month with debts of £25m. Ukio Bankas are owed £15m by Hearts. Another bust Romanov firm, UBIG, are owed £10m.

Meanwhile, The Foundation of Hearts – bidding to win control of the club for the fans – has reported a 15 per cent increase in fans converting their pledges into direct debits in the 24 hours since the launch of their “final push” – a number which sends them towards the 5,000 mark.