IMPACT

Paradise Papers to help recover $45m in Lithuanian bank conspiracy

Vladimir Romanov allegedly looted millions of dollars from a failed bank that will now be clawed back.

A fight by Lithuanian authorities to recover tens of millions of dollars allegedly looted from a failed local bank centers on dealings exposed in the Paradise Papers, prosecutors say.

Vladimir Romanov, the former owner of the failed Ukio Bankas, is alleged to have stolen $45 million from it, along with 12 accomplices, when it collapsed in 2013.

The Prosecutor General’s Office in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, and the nation’s Financial Crime Investigation Services revealed key details of their investigation last week. Law enforcement agencies recently finished an investigation into the case. Other Romanov-related cases remain under investigation.

Later, speaking to nonprofit news website Siena, they confirmed that a large part of the investigation is centered around dealings exposed in the 2017 Paradise Papers investigation.

The documents, which included nearly 7 million files from leading offshore law firm Appleby, were obtained by Sueddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Authorities allege that Romanov and others abused their position by issuing loans for private purposes, including to buy property in the United Kingdom and to finance football clubs in Scotland and Belarus and a basketball team in Lithuania.

In 2013, Lithuania put the bank, formerly the country’s sixth-largest lender, under administration. Investigations into alleged stolen assets followed. Romanov fled to Russia, where he now lives in asylum. He denies wrongdoing.

The recently-concluded investigation into Romanov centers on a loan by Ukio Bankas for a construction project in a suburban neighborhood of Vilnius, according to Siena and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

According to prosecutors, the loan was instead wired to a company in the Isle of Man, an offshore tax haven and Crown dependency in the Irish Sea. The company, Vintage Holdings Ltd., owned a luxury London property close to Buckingham Palace.

When Ukios Bankas’ liquidator sought to reclaim proceeds from the sale of the London property, a little-known offshore company in the British Virgin Islands, Exclusiva General, launched a creditor’s lawsuit against Vintage and sought to claim $27.5 million.

In a leaked email from the Paradise Papers, however, Romanov’s niece said Exclusiva General was owned by her mother, the sister of the bank’s former owner and against whom Lithuania had laid charges. The niece is not facing charges in Lithuania, OCCRP reported.

Lithuanian authorities say that they are confident of recovering proceeds from the sale of the London property and other frozen assets, including bank accounts, connected to the alleged bank conspiracy. Additional investigations continue.

ICIJ does not share documents with law enforcement agencies.