VILNIUS Aug 25 Russia has granted asylum to
Lithuanian banker Vladimir Romanov, who is wanted on
embezzlement charges, and has said it will not extradite him,
Lithuanian prosecutors said on Monday, in a move likely to
further chill relations between Moscow and Vilnius.
Romanov is the former owner of cash-strapped Scottish soccer
club Hearts and the main shareholder in Ukio Bankas, which
Lithuanian authorities placed in administration last year after
it ran into financial trouble.
Romanov is wanted by Vilnius on charges of embezzling 25
million euros ($33 million) from the bank.
A spokeswoman for Lithuania's Prosecutor General's office
said Moscow had informed Vilnius of its decision to grant
Romanov asylum. She said it had given no reason for the move.
The case comes at a time of deepening tensions between NATO
member Lithuania and Russia, the country's Soviet-era overlord,
because of the Ukraine crisis, which has triggered the biggest
chill in east-west relations since the end of the Cold War.
Lithuania is a temporary member of the U.N. Security Council
and last week Russia angrily accused the small Baltic state of
working with the United States and Britain to systematically cut
down Russian initiatives at the United Nations.
Last year, during its stint as chair of the European Union,
Lithuania played a key role in trying to persuade Ukraine to
sign up to closer economic ties with the EU against Russia's
The dispute over the EU association agreement ignited
pro-Western protests in Kiev and the eventual flight of
Ukraine's then-president, who had been close to Moscow.
Russia's subsequent actions -- annexation of Ukraine's
Crimea peninsula and support for pro-Russian separatists in
eastern Ukraine -- have led Lithuania and other former
Soviet-bloc countries to strengthen their security ties with
The Lithuanian government had to provide 230 million euros
to pay depositors at Ukio Bankas after the central bank placed
the bank in administration. Lithuanian prosecutors issued an
international search warrant for Romanov in August 2013.
He was arrested in Moscow in April but a Moscow court soon
ordered his release, Lithuanian prosecutors said.
Ukio bank, as well as Romanov's main business vehicle, a
Lithuanian company called Ukio Banko Investiciju Grupe (UBIG),
are both now undergoing bankruptcy proceedings. The
administrators sold the Hearts soccer club in May.
(1 US dollar = 0.7578 euro)
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Gareth Jones)