Lithuania seeks to extradite former Ukio bankas owner from Russia

By bne IntelliNews August 6, 2013

bne -

Lithuanian prosecutors announced on August 5 that an arrest warrant has been issued for Vladimir Romanov, the former owner of Ukio bankas, over alleged bank fraud. However, Vilnius is likely to struggle to get Moscow to hand him over.

"Romanov is suspected of squandering Ukio bankas' high-value property," Vilma Mazone, spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, told AFP. She declined to elaborate, but prosecutors had earlier said they were probing suspicious loans and leases as well as claims of huge payouts to people linked to the bank's leadership.

Mazone said the prosecutor ordered a search In July amid doubts over Romanov's whereabouts, before turning to the police for help. Russian-born Romanov - who also holds Lithuanian citizenship - faces up to seven years in prison if found guilty.

Simonas Minkevicius, of the Lithuanian prosecutor general's office, told Baltic News Service on August 5 that the call for the international search was made about four weeks ago. The move came "immediately after a procedural framework emerged" he added. "Mr Romanov is a suspect in the case, he is suspected of large-scale embezzlement of Ukio Bankas assets," Minkevicius said. 'The suspect is yet to be interviewed, therefore his position on the incriminated actions is not known."

Herald Scotland reports that Romanov, who is also the former owner of Edinburgh football club Heart of Midlothian is believed to be in Moscow, and that Lithuanian prosecutors and investigators from the country's financial crime investigation service had received a document from Russian doctors about three months ago saying he had suffered a stroke. According to the newspaper, the prosecutors want to talk to Romanov about LTL50m (€14.5m) in missing assets from Ukio. The central bank said earlier this year that Ukio's assets are worth LTL1.2bn less than its liabilities.

Under international procedures, Russian officials have to identify Romanov's whereabouts and provide information to Lithuanian prosecutors. However, reports suggest there is concern among Lithuanian officials over Romanov's citizenship status, with Russia rarely open to extradition requests. More to the point, perhaps, it has been claimed that the rogue banker is being protected in Moscow by people connected to Ramzan Kadyrov, the powerful president of Chechnya, behind whom stands President Vladimir Putin.

Stung by the costs to the state of previous bank collapses - the latest being Snoras in November 2011 - the Bank of Lithuania moved swiftly once it sniffed real trouble at Ukio in January. Jumping on an inspection report that described risky loans to related parties and capital ratios below legal limits, the regulator had suspended operations and installed a temporary administrator by February 12.

By early March, it had agreed to sell the good assets to the EBRD-backed Siauliu bankas, a deal on which the final paperwork was completed on May 2. An application to start bankruptcy proceedings was announced on April 18.

Romanov also controlled the Kaunas-based investment firm Ukio Banko Investicine Grupe (UBIG). Lithuanian courts have also opened bankruptcy proceedings against UBIG.

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