A CONSORTIUM vying to buy Hearts and usher in a new era of fan ownership has submitted a takeover bid to majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov, the Evening News can reveal.
The Lithuanian multi-millionaire is understood to be mulling over the deal that would see businessmen and supporters groups spearhead a new fan-led regime at the Gorgie club.
Capital insurance chief Alex Mackie, 58, is believed to one of the key figures behind the offer which comes days after Hearts received a £450,000 winding up order for unpaid PAYE and VAT, sparking a huge fundraising drive to stave off the threat of liquidation.
Mr Mackie, right, is listed as a company secretary at three city firms and is understood to have been an outspoken critic at several club AGMs.
He is said to be “fervent” Hearts fan who mixes in social circles with “significant resources”.
A source revealed Mr Mackie is blessed with “a brilliant business brain” and has the “clout” required to push a deal through. They added: “He’s a dyed-in-the-wool Hearts man and he cares passionately about the club.”
Mr Mackie, a company director with Edinburgh Risk Management Ltd since 2003 who lives in North Berwick, declined to comment.
But he belongs to a syndicate called Foundation of Hearts Ltd that was registered with Companies House in late 2010 and is based at Melville Street in the New Town.
A spokesman for Foundation of Hearts Ltd said: “The discussions between this group have been going on for a couple of years. It’s long term and an extremely serious approach that we have put together.”
The News understands that the bid has already been submitted to Hearts’ current owners and comes as shares in Vladimir Romanov’s bank Ukio Bankas plunged to their lowest level for eight years.
Several insiders have confirmed Mr Mackie was spearheading the takeover bid but, as yet, the identities of other backers remain unconfirmed.
It is understood Paul Goodwin, who led the acquisition of Stirling Albion FC by its supporters trust in July 2010, is heavily involved in marshalling various fan groups behind a single purchase bid. The head of Supporters Direct Scotland, Mr Goodwin is expected to continue mediating talks with Hearts supporters groups over the coming days.
One highly placed Edinburgh businessman, who declined to be identified, said Mr Mackie has carved a reputation for himself as “one of the good guys”.
He said: “In business, integrity is everything and from what I know of Mr Mackie, he’s a man of the highest integrity. A good speaker, he’s blessed with the gift of the gab and that, I imagine, is why he’s emerged as the man heading it. When it comes to negotiating, I imagine he’d be very good at that.”
He added: “In terms of net worth, I’m unable to hazard a guess with regard to his own circumstances. But, more importantly, as a fervent supporter of the club I can say he’s the sort of man who could act as the lynchpin or centrepiece of a significant pooling of fiscal resources.
“He knows and can deal with what’s required to possibly make this happen.”
Another business source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “This is not going to be your typical consortium. The idea is there would be greater fan involvement in affairs.”
A Hearts spokesperson said: “Vladimir Romanov will speak to anyone genuinely interested in buying Heart of Midlothian Football Club. But that person must be capable of proving they can take the club forward.”
Meanwhile, Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray is thought to have made headway in behind-the-scenes talks with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which is pursuing Hearts for the £450,000 unpaid tax bill, in a bid to give new momentum to discussions.
He said: “I have been speaking to the Treasury and senior officials at HMRC to try to get a constructive dialogue going between the club and tax authority.
“I’m confident now that those discussions are open and the club is in a better position today than it was last week.”
On Saturday, the News reported how club director Sergejus Fedotovas warned that Hearts fans would have to generate around £10,000 of revenue every day this season to survive its funding crisis.
Hearts fans responded by raising more than £20,000 through fundraisers and a collective share-buying scheme. It was reported that a share issue had amassed £200,000 in just 48 hours.
Now a group of former Jambos, including Gary Mackay and Paul Hartley, have set up a fighting fund to help safeguard the club’s future, pledging to donate money to the cause and encouraging fans to follow suit.
Former player and fans’ favourite Rudi Skacel was spotted pulling pints in the Brauhaus bar on Lauriston Place on Sunday as part of a fundraiser by pub owner Sal Sarwar, who pledged the entire day’s takings to Hearts. Representatives from the club even brought the Scottish Cup to the event.
WHAT HEARTS MEAN TO ME
DIE-HARD Hearts supporter Robert Borthwick, 22 – a self-proclaimed “Jambo from birth” – shares a season ticket with a friend sitting in the Wheatfield Stand.
The insurance company worker has been “shocked” by his club’s financial troubles, but described the united front from fellow supporters as “heartwarming”.
Asked what the Tynecastle club means to him, he replied: “This sounds like a cliché, but Hearts are everything to me. I base my entire life around Hearts. I work nine-to-five during the week but everything I do on a Saturday or Sunday is based on what Hearts are doing.
“I play football for a Hearts supporters team and my closest circle of friends are all fans.
“The club means the world to me and what has happened over the last few days has only solidified that. It’s reaffirmed the reason why I love this club as much as I do – seeing all the fans pulling in the one direction is just awesome to see. You often get fans disagreeing over things like team selection but that has gone out the window.”
COURT DATE FOR UKIO BANKAS
VLADIMIR Romanov’s bank is due in court tomorrow facing claims from two city businesses.
Property consultant Ryden is seeking payment for valuation work carried out on an Edinburgh property owned by UBIG UAB Ukio Banko in the civil claims court.
It is understood the claim relates to repayment of ten per cent of the total fee issued for the work.
The other case has been made by building support services firm Arthur McKay & Co, which has launched legal proceedings against Ukio Bankas Investment.
Both cases are expected to be heard at Edinburgh Sheriff Court tomorrow.
A sheriff has not yet been allocated to either case.
Vlad bank shares sink to eight-year low
SHARES in Vladimir Romanov’s bank have plunged to their lowest level for eight years.
Lithuania-based AB Ukio Bankas was said to have lost a quarter of its value in a month yesterday, with shares plummeting by as much as 12.4 per cent on the Vilnius stock exchange.
Shares closed down seven per cent at 0.12 euros – the lowest since October 2004 – according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The shares were 24.5 per cent down on the same period this time last year.
Mr Romanov owns 64.9 per cent of Ukio Bankas shares, according to the bank’s earnings report.
The decline is said to have begun after the bank reported a nine-month net loss on October 29 and gathered pace after it announced the takeover of a Lithuanian sports arena developer from debtors on November 6.
Tadas Povilauskas, an investment bank analyst, said: “Investors question the valuation of that property developer, which is a big part of the bank’s assets, and so they don’t know how much its equity may be worth now. And if Romanov hasn’t rescued his soccer club and hasn’t increased the share capital of Ukio Bankas as was planned, it probably means he just can’t find the money.”
Ukio Bankas announced in August it was pulling out of Edinburgh just seven months after opening its doors. Its branch, in rented premises at 10 Castle Street, was the bank’s only UK office and employed four staff.
Gintaras Ugianskis, the then chairman of the board and chief executive officer, said the reason for the closure was “to improve the operating performance”.
Ukio Bankas first announced plans to open an Edinburgh branch in 2006 and it began renting the premises in 2007, but was unable to open because of difficulties obtaining a banking licence.
The obstacles were overcome and it began operating in January.
Ukio Bankas announced on October 29 that Arnas Zalys, a former deputy chairman, was replacing Mr Ugianskis as chairman and chief executive officer.
Last month, it emerged that in addition to the late payment of wages to Hearts players, 1000 workers at Mr Romanov’s Birac metal factory in Zvornik, Bosnia, had not been paid since July. Union president Dragan Kostadinovic said the situation was “alarming”.
The factory’s director general, Virginijus Vajega, blamed the world economy crisis for the problem.
“The credit crunch has affected tycoons around the globe,” said Romanov expert Vlytas Plunksnis last month.