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20 January 2014, 17:12
The Russian former owner of Portsmouth Football Club should be extradited to Lithuania to face fraud charges, a court has ruled.
Vladimir Antonov, 37, and his Lithuanian business partner Raimondas Baranauskas, 56, are suspected of stripping 470 million euros (£396 million) and 10 million US dollars-worth (£6 million) of assets and funds from the Lithuanian-based Snoras Bank.
District Judge John Zani, sitting at Westmister Magistrates' Court today, ruled that the pair should be extradited to the country after concluding that they would receive a fair trial there and finding no evidence of risk to their human rights.
He said the men have seven days to appeal against the decision.
Antonov and Baranauskas 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.
The men claim they are victims of a "politically motivated conspiracy'' to nationalise Snoras bank, where Antonov was a majority shareholder and which owned a stake in anti-conservative newspaper Lithuania Morning, the court previously heard.
But in his ruling, Judge Zani said there was "no convincing evidence that this request has been or is being pursued for any political purpose''.
Antonov's Russian nationality was also not a factor in the case, the judge said, while "there has only been fleeting reference to the political leanings'' of either man.
The judge's ruling said Antonov, who owned Portsmouth FC for five months in 2011, has political affiliations to the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania, and as the party is back in power "this challenge is severely weakened''.
Referring to the political stability of Lithuania, which became independent in 1990, he added: "I am entirely satisfied that the Lithuanian judges have demonstrated their ability and willingness to act independently and to have successfully broken free from the shackles previously in place during the years of Russian domination.''
Judge Zani said the court spent much time considering the assurances of the Lithuanian authorities regarding the prison or prisons where the men would be detained if denied bail.
His ruling said: "I am also entirely satisfied that it would not be incompatible with the human rights of either or both of the requested persons for extradition to take place.''
Judge Zani said that if the men do not appeal against the decision, arrangements will be made for them to travel to Lithuania within 17 days.
The ruling follows 14 days of evidence last year in which London-based Antonov was described as the "primary mover'' in the fraud.
He bought Portsmouth FC in June 2011 but was forced to stand down as chairman in November that year when his Convers Sports Initiatives company went into administration.
John Hardy QC, representing the Lithuanian government, told the court last September that the football club had been a "basket case, economically'' and had fallen down the divisions in recent years.
"When Mr Antonov resigned, he cited interference from the Lithuanian government,'' the barrister said.
"We say in reality these extradition requests were a legitimate form of interference if ever there was one.''
Antonov and Baranauskas are each accused of five offences of fraud and theft.
Snoras bank employed more than 2,300 people across 250 branches with more than a million customers before it was nationalised in 2011.
The bank owned a 34% stake in Lithuania Morning.
Lawyers for Antonov had argued there was an "anti-Russian sentiment'' in Lithuania which had not been dispelled by the country's current government.