FIVE years ago Roman Romanov chaired an annual general meeting of Hearts shareholders and treated his audience with a mixture of contempt and condescension.
Tonight those shareholders got their revenge, as they voted unanimously to reject a resolution calling for his reappointment as a director.
Romanov, who is still listed on the club’s website as both its chairman and interim chief executive, will still be reappointed once all votes are counted. His father, Vladimir Romanov, still controls 79 per cent of the total shares, dwarfing the percentage owned by those who cast their votes from the floor of the Gorgie Suite. But rejection of Romanov junior is still an embarrassment for the board, who until recently could rely on the support – albeit at times grudging – of most attendees.
No insults were bandied about – in part because Romanov junior did not turn up to seek re-election. Instead, shareholders simply said they were not persuaded they should back someone who had shown little interest in the club since the last time he was seen in Edinburgh.
“I find it incredible we are considering reappointing a chairman we have not seen for several years and who is not
interested,” one speaker from the floor said before the vote.
The meeting was chaired by longstanding director Sergejus Fedotovas, who was accompanied by fellow-director Vitalijus Vasiliauskas. Since the resignation earlier this month of Vladimir Romanov’s niece Julija Goncaruk, and until Roman Romanov’s reappointment is ratified, those two are Hearts’ only directors. “Until this meeting there were three directors: myself, Vitalijus Vasiliauskas and Roman Romanov,” Fedotovas explained when asked by shareholder Bruce Ritchie about the composition of the board.
“We have witnessed the negative reaction to the reappointment of Roman Romanov and obviously this will be passed to him. Hopefully he can give a message to react to that.”
Ritchie replied: “ ‘Resign’ would be the obvious message from this room.” “Yes, but he has always taken an interest in the club,” Fedotovas insisted.
Hearts Shareholders Association chairman Bill Alves said later he was not convinced by that claim. “I voted against Mr Romanov,” said Alves, who is also on the united Foundation of Hearts working group which hopes to buy control of the club from Romanov’s company Ubig.
“I haven’t seen him for years and I haven’t spoken to him. I have spoken to Sergejus and I have a good relationship with Sergejus and Vitalijus. I’ve never seen Roman near the place since the last time he chaired an agm.”
Of the five formal resolutions put to the meeting, the other four – all technical motions such as approval of the accounts – passed easily by a show of hands. There were around 250 people present, and the formal business concluded less than half an hour after Fedotovas started the meeting. During the informal question-and-answer session which followed, many speakers expressed their concern for the financial well-being of Hearts.
Ukio Bankas, formerly run by Romanov senior, is now in administration. Ubig, the investment group in which the Kaunas-based businessman still has a controlling interest, is understood to have applied in the Lithuanian courts to be classed as insolvent.
Asked by Alves what the implications were for Hearts of the predicament of those two companies, Fedotovas was unable to offer much reassurance. “Ubig is considering the next steps – whether it should be bankruptcy proceedings or a state of alert,” he said.
“There may be implications for our company. If the parent company goes into bankruptcy there will be a points deduction, and we will start next season with minus 15 points. I say ‘if’ that will happen. If there is a change of ownership prior to Ubig suffering an insolvency event, the club will be unaffected. We are working with potential bidders to try to eliminate potential risk. Ukio Bankas going out of business was a surprise.”
Hearts owe Ubig £10 million and Ukio £15m, but Fedotovas said the admininstrator of the latter company had given no sign of a desire to recover that debt immediately. The Foundation of Hearts hopes to reach an agreement to buy a debt-free club, and Fedotovas suggested the board would look favourably on a bid from the supporters. “A bid by a fans’ group is realistic and can be achieved. But there may be other bidders, and our responsibility is to choose the best possible offer for the company. It is difficult to say which bidder will be preferred. If the fans’ bid is strong enough, they will take over the club and run it. In no way we are against the fans buying the club. It may be the most secure future.”
Asked by Alex Mackie of the Foundation to clarify a statement by Vladimir Romanov about selling 51 per cent of shares to fans, Fedotovas said that meant 51 per cent of the total, not just the amount owned by Ubig. The shares situation has been complicated by the fact that Ubig has given Ukio a ”share pledge agreement” covering 29.9 per cent of the total shareholding. In addition, Quantum, a Swiss-registered company, controls 15 per cent of the total.
Goncaruk has been listed as Quantum’s only director. Fedotovas, however, failed to shed any light on the matter.
“We’ve been speaking to that company,” he said. “We never dealt with Julija Goncaruk as a director of Quantum. We have not completed any research or investigation into Quantum.”