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2020.01.28 13:30

Investigators conclude 6-year Ūkio Bankas embezzlement probe

Šarūnas Sabaitis, BNS2020.01.28 13:30

Lithuanian prosecutors have concluded a six-year investigation into suspected large-scale embezzlement at Ūkio Bankas. The bank's former owner remains in hiding in Russia and may be tried in absentia.

Ūkio Bankas was declared insolvent in February 2013 and later that year prosecutors launched an investigation into suspected embezzlement by the bank's shareholders. The amount of damages subject to compensation was estimated at 370 million euros.

The investigation also looked into suspicions of abuse of office, laundering of criminally gained assets, and setting up and managing companies used as cover for unlawful activities, the Prosecutor General's Office said on Tuesday.

Thirteen individuals, including the bank's former majority owner Vladimir Romanov and members of the supervisory and management board, have been named suspects in the case.

“They are suspected of having acted as an organised group,” Ugnius Vyčinas of the Criminal Prosecution Department at the Prosecutor General's Office said.

The latest estimates put the extent of the financial fraud at over 40 million euros, according to Robert Sadianec, the head of the Special Task Board at the Financial Crimes Investigation Service (FNTT).

“The suspects abused their office to give bank loans to companies under their control and thus squandered over 40 million euros,” he said at the press conference.

The illegitimate funds were laundered via the accounts of 80 companies and individuals and used to purchase real estate. Some of the money was used to increase the authorised share capital of a Belarusian-registered company.

In another pending case related to Ūkio Bankas, the sum of damages is yet to be determined, but it may be “many times greater”, prosecutors believe.

According to Vyčinas, the embezzlement case is to reach court this year. Romanov, who is hiding in Russia, is the only suspect in the case who is out of reach for Lithuanian law-enforcement.

Prosecutors say the assets of all suspects have been seized and may be sufficient to cover the damages in the case.

Romanov, who held 65 percent of shares in Ūkio Bankas, fled to Russia in May 2013. He was detained in Moscow on an international arrest warrant in April 2015, but was soon released. Russia subsequently informed Lithuania that it had granted Romanov asylum.

In June 2018, a Vilnius court gave the green light for putting Romanov on trial in absentia.

Before declaring himself insolvent, Romanovas owned Scottish Premier League football club Hearts and Lithuanian Basketball League club Žalgiris.

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