CONFUSION surrounded Tynecastle today after Vladimir Romanov quit the board of UBIG, the company which runs Hearts.
Club officials are in the dark over the full implications of the latest twist in his reign and are seeking clarification from Lithuania on exactly what the development means for Hearts’ future.
Romanov’s right-hand man, Sergejus Fedotovas, has also stepped down from the board of the Kaunas-based
investment company, which is Hearts’ majority shareholder.
But Fedotovas remains a director on the club’s board, which suggests that Romanov may retain a powerful
influence at Tynecastle.
Fedotovas said last month that the club was now surviving without funding from Romanov or UBIG and was working towards becoming self-sustainable by the start of next season.
Foundation of Hearts – a fan-led consortium vying to take over the club – said it was unsure of the ramifications of Romanov’s departure from the UBIG board.
A spokesman said: “It’s all up in the air. We have good contacts in Lithuania and we are attempting to figure out what this latest move exactly means.
“Sergejus Fedotovas remains at the club so that would mean Vladimir Romanov still retains an interest. The financial arrangements in relation to the club are very complex and unclear.”
In a statement, UBIG chief executive Rita Matuziene said the entire board decided to step down after the suspension of trading at Ukio Bankas, in which Romanov was majority shareholder, before the bank went into administration last month.
According to Matuziene, who remains chief executive despite stepping down from the board, a new board will be elected at the next meeting of UBIG shareholders.
Romanov’s Lithuanian bank Ukio Bankas was last month declared insolvent following the appointment of an administrator – but the exact amount of debt owed to the bank by Hearts has not been confirmed.
UBIG’s floating charge over Tynecastle Stadium and the land around it was transferred to Ukio Bankas in December 6. The charge, which secures the stadium against debts, is worth £6.8 million.
If rival banking firm Siauliu Bankas – which is taking over the “good” parts of Ukio Bankas – seeks to reclaim that debt, and if Hearts are unable to pay, then the bank might attempt to force the stadium’s sale.
Football finance expert Neil Patey said he believed Romanov – who retains a personal 16.9 per cent shareholding in UBIG – remained in charge at Hearts and the investment company.
Speaking of the UBIG board quitting en masse, he said: “Why they did it? I’ve not a clue.
“In the short term, does it change anything? No. Romanov still calls the shots, he will still make the decisions.” Romanov admitted last week that he had lost his entire £250m fortune, largely as a result of the collapse of Ukio Bankas.
The 66-year-old Russian told Lithuanian television station LNK that he had been forced to borrow money from friends after his bank accounts were frozen by the authorities and that he may even return to his previous profession as a taxi driver.
Recent reports placed his personal fortune at £42m, but last month Raimondas Kuodis, vice-chairman of the Bank of Lithuania, said the Hearts owner’s liabilities were in the region of £58m, surpassing his total wealth.
Romanov has been dogged by controversy since buying the club in October 2005, including the failure to pay players and staff on time.