Vladimir Romanov’s story is a rags-to-riches tale, with a bit of end-of-the-Soviet-Union-profiteering thrown in. The Hearts of Midlothian owner made his fortune in Lithuania, but only after driving a cab and selling bootleg Western music out of the trunk as a young man. The founder of Lithuania’s first private bank in the years after the USSR’s dissolution, Romanov claims to broke again in the aftermath of his bank’s collapse and the government’s seizure of his assets. So maybe he’ll go back to driving the cab.
Said Romanov, who rescued Hearts from administration when he swooped in back in 2005:
“On the day the bank went into administration, the authorities froze all my bank cards and accounts.
“All that I had left was the money I had in my pocket. I was forced to borrow money from friends and immediately sell my property to raise funds.
“As for what I will do next, I think I will become a taxi driver.”
That’s a £250 million fortune, gone. Or embargoed, rather.
This is the same man that once claimed that he would take Hearts to Champions League glory, and has overseen a tumultuous period at the club with sixteen managerial changes (the most recent yesterday, with John McGlynn getting the sack) during his ownership. Three of the men appointed to manager Hearts under Romanov were fellow Lithuanians.
Fans are rightly nervous about what the collapse of the bank and the seizure of Romanov’s assets means for the club. Hearts is taking pains to explain that, thanks to the corporate organization of Romanov’s holdings, the club won’t be affected in any way.
Sergejus Fedotovas, director of Hearts, said: “The board wishes to make it clear that Heart of Midlothian plc and Ukio Bankas are two separate companies.
“Hearts is majority owned by Ukio Banko Investicine Grupe, a multi-national business conglomerate. UBIG is an entirely separate entity and stands alone from Ukio Bankas.
“At a service and operational level, Ukio Bankas does provide the club with some banking services and debt facility and the board is liaising with Ukio Bankas on these matters.
“The supporters of Hearts can be assured that the board of the club continues to be diligent in financial matters and we believe that today’s events in Lithuania will have very little affect on our day-to-day business.”
While troubling, these events might give Foundation of Hearts, a fan group that hopes to buy the club, an opportunity to press their claim.