Court reveals airBaltic funding scheme

  • 2012-12-12
  • From wire reports

Vladimir Antonov awaits desicion on extradition.

RIGA - Former Latvijas Krajbanka co-owner Vladimir Antonov last year borrowed money meant for the national airline airBaltic from the Austrian offices of VTB, a bank controlled by the Russian government, putting up customer deposits in the Lithuanian bank Snoras as security, business daily Dienas Bizness reported on Dec. 7 quoting materials in the case it has obtained from a London court.

Twenty-five million euros reached the troubled airBaltic in 2011 via various offshore companies that were controlled by Antonov. One of these was Taurus Asset Management Fund Limited, formerly the holder of a 50 percent stake in Baltijas aviacijas sistemas, a shareholder in airBaltic.
Latvijas Krajbanka was banned from lending money to airBaltic at that time because it had already exceeded the permissible crediting level.

The State Police have opened a criminal process on bankrupting Latvijas Krajbanka, where Antonov, the bank’s former president Ivars Prieditis and former board members Dzintars Pelcbergs and Martins Zalans enjoy the status of suspects. The authorities last year also detained the bank’s former board member Svetlana Ovcinnikova, also a suspect in the criminal case.

The suspects’ properties, including those abroad, have been arrested, and investigators continue work in order to establish every suspect’s role in the affair.

Former Snoras managers and owners Antonov and Lithuanian Raimondas Baranauskas’ properties in Lithuania have also been arrested. Westminster Magistrates’ Court will decide on Jan. 21 whether to extradite the two to Lithuania.
Baranauskas was Snoras’ CEO, whereas Antonov was chairman of the Snoras council; they had a 25.31 percent and 68.1 percent interests in Snoras, respectively. Snoras was the largest shareholder in Latvijas Krajbanka.

‘Foreigners’ to blame
Newly elected politicians in Lithuania are preoccupied with the puzzle of the new government and do not seem to be interested in the affairs of the nationalized Snoras and its decreasing asset values, reports ELTA. It is now alleged that foreign managers and consultants, who were hired to recoup the stolen funds and who have access to bank safes and accounts, make great use of the bank and enjoy it like their own. Funds already withdrawn total 29.8 million euros.
The daily Respublika claims that the foreigners who are “entrenched” in Snoras have been legally parceling out tremendous amounts of money. However, bank creditors and the public are continuously told tales about the work done, or supposedly which is being done.

When last year on Nov. 16 Snoras’ operations were suspended, temporary administrator Simon Freakley was already working on the case. Just for 8 days’ work, during which the fatal verdict on the bank was made, he collected a fee of 17 million litas (4.9 million euros).

Neil Cooper, a colleague of Freakley, received around 67 million litas by the end of August 2012.
“Somehow, every time the question of Snoras bank sales or business recovery is raised, Cooper says that there is time and we should wait. I understand that such waiting for someone receiving a lot of money from the bank that the state has forgotten, is really very lucrative,” said head of the association of Snoras’ depositors and creditors Danas Arlauskas.
The issue of disappearing funds needs to be addressed, but accusations against the “foreigners” may represent just the most recent scapegoat in what may be poor oversight of clearing up the Snoras mess - which was caused by a corrupt banking operation run by Antonov and Baranauskas, right under the noses of Lithuania’s banking regulator.

Arlauskas says that neither he nor the creditors expect any positive developments in Snoras’ affairs from the government of outgoing Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius or outgoing Finance Minister Ingrida Simonyte; therefore, they are looking forward to the start of the new government.

According to Arlauskas, Snoras’ creditors and he himself intend to submit proposals on Snoras to the new Minister of Finance and demand “for the most urgent measures to address the questions of the bank and its assets future.”