Lithuania eyes takeover of Hearts owner's Ukio by another bank

VILNIUS Mon Feb 18, 2013 2:47pm EST

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VILNIUS Feb 18 (Reuters) - Lithuania's central bank decided on Monday permanently to close the bank belonging to the main owner of troubled Scottish soccer club Hearts and start talks with another bank on taking it over.

The authorities last week restricted operations at Ukio Bankas and appointed an administrator after it ran into financial troubles. The central bank has said it was seeking a solution for Ukio's future.

The central bank said in a statement on Monday that it had decided the best solution was to remove Ukio's licence for good and start talks with rival Siauliu Bankas on taking over Ukio's assets and liabilities. Siauliu is 20 percent owned by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The central bank said such a solution would "better protect the confidence of the shareholders in the stability and reliability of the banking system" and be better than making Ukio bankrupt.

Ukio is owned by businessman Vladimir Romanov, who is also the main shareholder in Hearts.

Edinburgh-based Hearts, one of Scotland's top soccer clubs, has debt of about 24 million pounds ($38 million) and in December agreed to pay 1.5 million pounds to settle a tax dispute. Hearts also cleared a separate tax bill of 450,000 pounds which lifted the immediate threat of liquidation.

Fans have set up a foundation to try to save the club and have asked Romanov to let them take it over.

The club has distanced itself from the troubles at Ukio, saying the shareholding in the soccer club was via a completely separate investment company. But it also said Ukio provided banking services and debt to the club.

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