Six Lithuanians charged with embezzlement at Bosnia alumina plant
* Police says $13.4 mln diverted, hurting alumina plant's operation
* Warrant to be issued after prosecutor confirms indictment
* Alumina plant undergoing bankruptcy procedure
BANJA LUKA, Bosnia, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Police on Friday charged six Lithuanians with the embezzlement of 19.4 million Bosnian marka ($13.4 million) from Bosnia's alumina plant Birac Zvornik, which was forced into bankruptcy and taken over by the government.
The ongoing investigation has revealed tax evasion and irregular spending by the former management at the loss-making plant while it was majority-owned by Lithuanian lender Ukio Bankas, which was itself placed in administration by Lithuania's central bank after it ran into financial trouble.
Ukio's main shareholder is Vladimir Romanov, owner of cash-strapped Scottish soccer club Hearts.
"The six are charged with economic mismanagement, abuse of office and forgery," Bosnia's Serb Republic police director Gojko Vasic told reporters but declined to identify the group.
Birac, Bosnia's sole alumina plant located in the eastern town of Zvornik in the country's autonomous Serb Republic, had been struggling to pay off mounting debts.
The plant is a major employer in the Zvornik area but recorded a loss of 5.4 million Bosnian marka in 2012, bringing total losses over an unspecified number of years to 735.3 million marka, according to a financial report it published in February on the Banja Luka Stock Exchange.
Vasic said the group has diverted part of 19.4 million marka of funds from the regional Investment and Development Bank (IRB), incurring a loss of 11.3 million marka to a firm operating within Birac.
Following police investigation into the Birac's operation in April, the Serb Republic government ordered the tax authority to launch bankruptcy proceedings at the plant and took it over. .
The Lithuanian managers left Bosnia after the investigation had been launched and never returned.
Vasic said the police had not yet made contact with the Lithuanian authorities. He said that international warrants for the six are pending the formal confirmation of the indictment by the regional prosecutor.
The Serb Republic government has said it managed to resume production at the plant and pay employees. But it has failed to pay the outstanding debt to contractors and service providers. (Reporting by Gordana Katana; Writing by Maja Zuvela; editing by Ivana Sekularac and David Evans)
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