Bank owner wanted by Lithuania granted bail in UK

AP News
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Posted: Nov 25, 2011 11:00 AM
Bank owner wanted by Lithuania granted bail in UK

A London court has released Russian businessman and Portsmouth Football Club owner Vladimir Antonov on bail following his arrest in connection with a massive money-laundering probe in Lithuania.

Antonov, 36, was detained Thursday on a European arrest warrant issued by investigators probing alleged fraud and money laundering at his banks in two Baltic states. He was arrested along with his Lithuanian partner Raimondas Baranauskas, 53.

Both said they did not consent to being extradited to Lithuania in an appearance Friday at Westminster Magistrates Court. Both were released on conditional bail.

Antonov was ordered to pay 75,000 pounds ($116,000), surrender his passport, and live and sleep at his London home. He must report to police three days a week.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) _ A Russian businessman who owns Portsmouth Football Club and has tried to invest in cash-strapped car maker Saab has been arrested in London in connection with a money laundering probe that has rocked Lithuania and Latvia, officials said Friday.

Vladimir Antonov, 36, and a Lithuanian partner, Raimondas Baranauskas, 53, were detained Thursday on an arrest warrant issued by investigators probing alleged fraud and money laundering at his banks in the Baltic states, Lithuanian prosecutor Tomas Krusna told reporters.

The Bank of Lithuania said late Thursday that his bank there, Snoras Bank, will be liquidated, calling it the best solution for country's financial system and economy, which were jolted after the bank was nationalized and its operations halted.

Lithuanian regulators claim that hundreds of millions of euros were siphoned from Snoras, the country's fifth-largest financial institution, while Latvian authorities have said that similar asset-stripping took place on a massive scale at Latvija Krajbanka, a subsidiary bank controlled by Snoras.

Lithuanian bank chief Vitas Vasiliauskas said the government was liquidating the bank rather than waste taxpayers' money trying to help "a plane that won't fly."

"There is no other way to solve this situation," he said.

The decision to liquidate Snoras means that Latvijas Krajbanka, which Snoras controls through a 68 percent stake, is almost certain to suffer the same fate given Latvia's meager financial resources as it emerges from one of the world's worst recessions.

When asked about Antonov's arrest, London police read a statement saying that two men _ age 36 and 53 _ were arrested in response to a Europe-wide arrest warrant in London's financial center. British officials do not name suspects until they have been charged.

Police said the two men remained in custody overnight and are due to appear in a London court later Friday.

Lithuanian prosecutors on Wednesday issued the warrant for Antonov, who owned over 60 percent of Snoras, and Baranauskas.

Antonov told the Lithuanian daily Respublika in a phone interview published Thursday that he feared for his life.

"I returned to London because I live and work here _ my family is here. Where else can I go? Russia? That would be a one-way ticket. I would have to stay there for safety, but this would be considered an escape attempt," he said.

"I am ready to testify...I understand that extradition is inevitable. I can say it openly _ I am scared that I may get killed," Antonov said.

Latvian officials had hoped that Lithuania's government might be able to salvage the banks, and Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis was due to travel to Lithuania on Friday on discuss the issue. However, once news of Snoras' liquidation broke, Dombrovskis canceled the trip.

Lithuania's Finance Ministry said Friday that they would pay out all guaranteed deposits _ up to euro100,000 ($132,000) _ at Snoras by Christmas _ requiring some 4 billion litas ($1.5 billion) in funds.

Latvia's government was due to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the fate of Latvijas Krajbanka.

Authorities in both Lithuania and Latvia say the two banks' collapse does not pose a systemic risk since they are mid-sized and the two states have ample reserves to guarantee deposits.

Latvijas Krajbanka was Latvia's 10th largest bank by assets after it was taken over by regulators on Monday.

Janis Brazovskis, an official with Latvia's Finance and Capital Markets Commission who was appointed to oversee Krajbanka, said Wednesday that Antonov's failed attempt to acquire the troubled Swedish automaker Saab might have triggered the Baltic banks' downfall.

He said that approximately 100 million lats ($200 million) were siphoned from the bank to increase its charter capital and finance Antonov's investment projects _ including the unsuccessful takeover of Saab.

Deposit holders in both countries are now forced to wait in long lines to withdraw money from cash machines, while companies and municipalities have seen the working capital virtually disappear.

Baranauskas, who owned just over 25 percent in Snoras, said last week that Lithuania's decision to nationalize Snoras was "robbery" and an attack on Antonov.

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Associated Press writers Cassandra Vinograd in London and Gary Peach in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.