FORMER Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov has reportedly been arrested in Russia on an international warrant - and then set free.
The country’s Interfax news agency reported earlier today that Romanov was apprehended by Russian criminal investigation officers in the Russian capital Moscow on Monday.
But just hours later his lawyer said that he had been set free, sparking anger from Lithuianian officials.
An international arrest warrant was issued for the former owner of Ukio Bankas in 2013, on charges of embezzlement of 14.5 million, but the businessman surfaced in Russia in October 2013.
It was claimed he had fabricated a health scare in order to leave Lithuania and escape prosecution.
At the time, Lithuanian authorities admitted that they had no idea where Romanov was, claiming they were unable to act on reports the 66-year-old was in Moscow.
An international arrest warrant was issued for the tycoon to return to his adopted homeland of Lithuania in order to face prosecution over non-payment of debts connected to the collapse of Ukio Bankas - one of Hearts’ major shareholders.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said if Romanov has been released it would show Russia once again defying its international obligations and international law.
“Let us speak about the issuance of a European warrant for wanted persons,” she said.
“If this is true, because I don’t yet have confirmation that he had been arrested, [this means that] somebody complied with the international obligations, but later he was released, most probably under political pressure. If this is confirmed, it just proves once again that international obligations [and] international law are non-existent for Russia,” she said.
Soon afterwards Romanov’s lawyer Adomas Liutvinskas said: “I can confirm that he is free.”
He added that he was unaware what happened to Romanov in Moscow. “I was not present there, and I do not want to guess if it was detention or some other procedure,” said Liutvinskas.
He added: “As far as I know, he was released.”
He hoped to talk to his client soon, he said.
Asked to comment on reports that Romanov had been released, a Moscow police spokesman said: “I do not have such information, my report says this citizen was detained and this is all.”
Romanov claimed he was in Moscow receiving treatment for a stroke, but pictures emerged of him sunning himself on a Russian beach, and Lithuania Financial Crime Investigation Service prosecutor Simon Minkevicius claimed that a medical certificate reportedly sent by Romanov’s doctors was ‘missing some required particulars.’
A reporter for Russian news agency RIA told Lithuanian TV last year that Romanov was in the Russian capital, and revealed that it was ‘some kind of story’ that he had been suffering from poor health.
Documents released showed that Romanov had transferred 50 million litas (around £12 million) from one of his accounts into his own Ukio Bankas at the time Hearts’ problems began. The funds poured into Ukio Bankas were used to increase the bank’s capital.
Embezzlement charges arose after papers from the Bank of Lithuania showed he had paid the money to himself.