Lithuanian prosecutors issued a European arrest warrant for the Russian owner of the Portsmouth Football Club in connection with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets stripped from a local bank, they said Wednesday.
Prosecutors said they Vladimir Antonov and his Lithuanian partner Raimundas Baranauskas are the main suspects in a pretrial investigation into an alleged fraud and money laundering case that is threatening to destroy two Baltic banks.
Lithuania's Snoras Bank was nationalized last week after regulators discovered a huge asset shortfall, while Latvian regulators suspended and took control of Latvijas Krajbanka due to an unexpected outflow of funds over recent days.
Antonov, 36, owned 68 percent of Snoras before it was nationalized and had controlled Latvijas Krajbanka through a 60 percent stake owned by Snoras.
Antonov is believed to spend most of his time in England, while Baranauskas, who held just over 25 percent in Snoras, is also abroad.
The Russian businessman recently undertook an unsuccessful attempt to buy out the Swedish automaker Saab but was prevented from doing so apparently due to a lack of transparency about the origins of his capital.
Janis Brazovskis, an official with Latvia's Finance and Capital Markets Commission who was appointed to oversee Latvijas Krajbanka, said Wednesday that the attempt to take over Saab might have triggered the downfall of the two Baltic banks.
He told LNT television that the approximate 100 million lats ($200 million) siphoned from the bank were used to increase its charter capital and finance Antonov's investment projects _ including the failed attempt to buy out Saab.
Brazovskis said Krajbanka's former president, Ivars Prieditis, signed the documents ordering the transfers though he should not have done so.
Prieditis has been detained by Latvian police as part of its criminal investigation, the Baltic News Service reported on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, fallout from the banks' woes was spreading. Lithuania's Olympic committee warned that it might not be able to send its athletes to London next summer since its funds were deposited in Snoras.
Raimonds Pauls, a Latvian pianist well known throughout the former Soviet Union, reportedly had some euro1 million ($1.35 million) in various currencies in Latvijas Krajbanka. He is likely only to get a tenth back since Latvia guarantees deposits only up to 100,000 euros.
Latvians on Wednesday lined up at Krajbanka cash machines, which had been closed the day before, to withdraw the daily limit of 50 lats ($100).
Leaders and regulators have said that there is no systemic risk from the two banks' insolvency given their average size. Snoras was Lithuania's fifth largest bank by assets, while Latvijas Krajbanka was Latvia's sixth largest by deposits.
Since Lithuania's government now owns Snoras, it essentially controls the fate of Latvijas Krajbanka.
Brazovskis said that Latvijas Krajbanka was unlikely to survive the current troubles given the shortage of cash to cover its liabilities.
Associated Press writer Gary Peach in Riga, Latvia contributed to this report.