‘Fraud’ extradition case ruling due

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Published: Wednesday 6th May 2015 by The News Editor

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The Russian former owner of Portsmouth Football Club today learns the result of his High Court bid to block extradition to Lithuania to face £400m fraud charges.

Vladimir Antonov, 39, and his Lithuanian business partner Raimondas Baranauskas, 57, are both wanted to stand trial but say they are being used as “scapegoats” following the controversial nationalisation of Snoras, a leading Lithuanian bank they controlled.

They argue the extradition request was made in bad faith and was “politically motivated” by the Lithuanian government’s desire to end criticism from a newspaper owned by the bank.

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Lithuania contends the decision to issue the arrest warrants was valid and justified.

Antonov was chairman of the bank’s board of observers and also a substantial shareholder. Baranauskas was chief executive and chairman of the board until the bank was nationalised by the Lithuanian government in November 2011.

The pair are accused of stripping 470 million euros (£396 million) and 10 million US dollars-worth (£6 million) of assets and funds from Snoras.

Both men are also alleged to have submitted false documents to the Lithuanian central bank to conceal their systematic plundering of Snoras, involving 33 transfers to Swiss and other offshore accounts controlled by them, between 2008 and 2011.

Lithuanian prosecutors issued a European arrest warrant for them in November 2011 after naming them as the main suspects in a pre-trial investigation.

Mr Antonov was forced to quit Portsmouth FC that year because of the case against him.

Both he and Mr Baranauskas are challenging a ruling by District Judge John Zani, sitting at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, that extradition can go ahead.

Judge Zani concluded in January 2014 that they would receive a fair trial on the fraud charges and rejected claims that extradition would breach their human rights.

At a recent High Court hearing, John Jones QC accused Judge Zani of “failing to engage with the significant quantity of evidence” proving the extradition request was politically tainted.

Mr Jones, for Baranauskas, said the evidence showed that “the president and then government of Lithuania for political reasons decided to destroy Snoras bank.”

A key reason for nationalising the bank was the government’s desire to end criticism from Lieutuvos Rytas, the Lithuanian morning daily newspaper owned by the bank, said Mr Jones.

He said: “They used the central bank to achieve that aim and it became necessary for the figureheads of the bank to be scapegoated by being subjected to criminal charges.”

He said “sufficient political pressure” was brought to bear on the Lithuanian prosecutor general’s office to issue the arrest warrants without first being given an opportunity to investigate the case more carefully.

Published: Wednesday 6th May 2015 by The News Editor

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