HEARTS have been given some breathing space to deal with their financial troubles by the administrator of Ukio Bankas, who has said he has “no reason or desire to harm” the club.
Gintaras Adomonis spoke yesterday after a Lithuanian court upheld the decision to liquidate Ukio, which went into temporary administration earlier this year. The bank, in which Vladimir Romanov previously had a controlling interest, holds 29.9 per cent of the shares in Hearts and is owed £15million by the club. UBIG, a separate company also controlled by Romanov, is owed £10m and has 50 per cent of the shares. If Adomonis had tried to call in the debt, Hearts would almost certainly have been plunged into administration as a result of their inability to pay. But his stance vindicates the position taken by Foundation of Hearts chairman Ian Murray, who has insisted since taking up his post that the administrator would have no reason to make impossible demands.
Adomonis, of accountancy firm UAB Valnetas, has been tasked with realising as much value as possible for all of Ukio’s former assets. He said yesterday that the best case for Ukio’s creditors was to preserve Hearts as a going concern. “Ukio Bankas has now to deal with lots of debts and return the funds to its creditors,” Adomonis said. “We must at all times consider the best interest of the creditors of Ukio Bankas. Heart of Midlothian plc is one of the companies indebted to the bank. There are several possible alternatives to dealing with this case but our initial assessment indicates that most likely the most extensive return for Ukio Bankas creditors may be achieved by keeping the club operating.
“For now we have no reason or desire to harm Hearts. So our primary initiative is contemplated to be the sale of Hearts.”
Hearts were happy to hear the news that they will not immediately be pursued for the £15m owed to Ukio. The club are currently trying to find the funds to pay the remainder of a £100,000 bill from Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise.
The majority of that bill was paid by the club earlier this week, but HMRC is still expected to issue a winding-up order until the bill is settled in full. Such an order would leave Hearts eight days from its time of publication to find the money. “Heart of Midlothian Football Club today welcomes the news that the administrator for Ukio Bankas is keen to work with the club to reach a suitable solution that can satisfy the requirement to meet achievable returns for creditors, while also protecting the business operations and future sale prospects of the club,” a statement on the club’s website read.
The statement went on to quote Hearts director Sergejus Fedotovas as saying: “We are in regular dialogue with the administrator of Ukio Bankas and, as a result, we know that the club’s interests are being very well treated,” he said. “Our intention is to maintain this positive dialogue with a view to ensuring a suitable resolution relating to the business interests that link both the football club and the bank in administration.”
Murray, the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South, said last month that it made neither economic nor political sense for the Lithuanian authorities to adopt the sort of hardline attitude that could threaten Hearts’ existence. Earlier this week he revealed to The Scotsman that the Foundation is now in a position to make what he believes will be “a realistic bid” for the club.
The Foundation, which is holding an open meeting at Tynecastle tomorrow night, now has more than 4,000 financial
pledges from supporters.
The fact that the meeting is being held on club premises is a minor but significant indication of the good relations between the Foundation and the Hearts board. Fedotovas and his colleagues, who were previously dismissive of the Foundation’s efforts, have warmed considerably to the organisation since Murray became its chairman.