Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Portsmouth FC: Vladimir Antonov challenges extradition

Vladimir Antonov Image copyright PA
Image caption London-based Vladimir Antonov bought Portsmouth Football Club in June 2011

The Russian ex-Portsmouth FC owner Vladimir Antonov is challenging what he claims is a "politically-motivated" bid to extradite him to Lithuania to face fraud charges.

Mr Antonov, 39, and his Lithuanian business partner Raimondas Baranauskas, are appealing at London's High Court against their removal from the UK.

They are accused of stripping assets and funds from Lithuanian bank Snoras.

They say they are being used as "scapegoats".

Mr Antonov, who was main shareholder and chairman of Snoras' board of observers, and Mr Baranauskas, 56, are accused of stripping 470m euros (£396m) and $10m (£6m) of assets and funds from the bank.

Mr Baranauskas was chief executive and chairman of the board until it was nationalised in November 2011.

The pair are also alleged to have submitted false documents to the Lithuanian central bank to conceal their activity across 33 transfers between 2008 and 2011.

'Failing to engage'

They are challenging a ruling made at Westminster Magistrates' Court by District Judge John Zani that they should be extradited.

In January last year, he concluded they would receive a fair trial in Lithuania and found no evidence of risk to their human rights.

Earlier, John Jones QC, representing Mr Baranauskas, accused Judge Zani of "failing to engage with the significant quantity of evidence", proving the extradition request was politically tainted.

He said evidence showed "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, he added.

"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," he said.

Mr Jones said the 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.

Prosecutors are defending their actions, saying the decision to issue the arrest warrants was valid and justified.

Lithuanian authorities issued a European arrest warrant for the men in November 2011 after naming them as the main suspects in a pre-trial investigation.

Mr Antonov bought Portsmouth Football Club in June 2011.

He was forced to stand down as chairman in November 2011 when his company Convers Sports Initiatives (CSI) went into administration.

Their appeal hearing is expected to last two days.

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