Vladimir Antonov, former co-owner of Bankas Snoras AB, and co-owner of Convers Sports Initiatives Plc (CSI), owners of Porstmouth Football Club, leaves Westminster magistrates court in London, U.K., on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. Former Bankas Snoras AB owners Antonov and Raimondas Baranauskas told a U.K. judge they were innocent of Lithuanian allegations of fraud and embezzlement that pushed the bank into insolvency. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Vladimir Antonov
Vladimir Antonov © Bloomberg

Vladimir Antonov, the former owner of Portsmouth football club, has launched an appeal against his extradition to Lithuania to face allegations of bank fraud.

The Lithuanian authorities have accused Mr Antonov, the former chairman of Snoras bank, and his associate Raimondas Baranauscas of improperly transferring more than €478m and another $10m into accounts said to be under their control.

The two men deny any wrongdoing and claim they have been made scapegoats for the “hugely controversial” nationalisation of Snoras in 2011. They claim the charges are politically motivated.

Snoras, which had expanded into the Czech Republic, Latvia and Belgium, was considered one of the leading private banks in Lithuania, with assets of €2.2bn, in March 2011, before it was nationalised that November.

John Jones QC, counsel for Mr Baranauscas, claimed in the High Court in London that the “president and central bank brought down Snoras for political reasons”.

The prosecutor-general’s office then issued a European arrest warrant for the two men in “undue haste” after receiving a complaint from the central bank, he alleged.

“If the government decided for political reasons to destroy the bank and used the central bank to achieve that aim, so it became necessary for the figureheads of the bank to be scapegoated by being the subject of criminal charges,” said Mr Jones.

Snoras was always viewed as a Russian rather than a Lithuanian bank, partly because Mr Antonov was a Russian national, the court heard.

Mr Jones said the prosecutor-general’s office had issued an arrest warrant “very shortly” after receiving the complaint, and “there was no possible way they could have concluded any independent investigation”.

He told the High Court that the prosecutor-general’s office might have been influenced by “political pressure”.

The Lithuanian authorities have alleged that the two men created false accounts and other documents within the bank’s accounting records and that in July 2011 Mr Antonov arranged for false information to be provided to the Bank of Lithuania.

The men, who were both shareholders in the bank, deny all allegations of criminal conduct, which cover a period between 2008 and 2011.

Mr Antonov bought Portsmouth FC in June 2011, but he was forced to stand down as chairman in November that year when his Convers Sports Initiatives company went into administration.

The High Court appeal is seeking to overturn a decision by District Judge John Zani at Westminster magistrates’ court, who ruled in January 2014 that the two men could be extradited to Lithuania.

The judge rejected arguments that the prosecution had been launched because of Mr Antonov’s Russian nationality or because of the men’s political opinions.

Judge Zani, who made no finding of guilt or innocence against the men, also noted that the Lithuanian authorities had given a number of written assurances and that there was not a “real risk” to Mr Antonov’s life by his return.

The two men are appealing against the judge’s decision, claiming he failed to give proper findings for his decision.

The appeal, which is due to last two days, continues. Judgment is expected to be reserved until a later date.

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