The Russian former owner of Pompey today asked the High Court to block what he claims is a “politically-motivated” bid to extradite him to Lithuania on 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.
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 activity across 33 transfers 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.
They 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.
John Jones QC, representing Baranauskas, accused Judge Zani of “failing to engage with the significant quantity of evidence” proving the extradition request was politically tainted.
Mr Jones 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.”
Mr Jones submitted the evidence showed that extradition request had been made in bad faith.
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.
The prosecuting authority is defending its actions, saying the decision to issue the arrest warrants was valid and justified.