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Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov says no to Rangers newco in SPL

The outspoken businessman said that Rangers newco should start in the lower leagues of the Scottish game.

Vladimir Romanov:
© SNS Group

Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov believes that Rangers must not be allowed back into the Scottish Premier League next year.

The outspoken businessman said that Rangers newco should start in the lower leagues of the Scottish game after their financial collapse.

He also criticised the dependence of Scottish clubs on TV money from broadcaster BSkyB, which is part of the Murdoch media empire.

On Thursday, the Edinburgh club released a statement from Mr Romanov, who owns the club through his controlling stake in Lithuanian bank, UAB Ūkio Banko Investicinė Grupė (UBIG), on their website.

He said: "The football mafia represented by former owners of Rangers FC and Rupert Murdoch's media are to blame for some of the worst problems to hit Scottish football and must not be allowed back in under any circumstances.

"As regards the club itself, we can only express our deepest condolences to its supporters, who have been lied to for so many years.

"It had to happen sooner or later. Victories were achieved not by sporting merits, but through slander, conspiracies amongst players and their poaching via third parties, unfair pressuring of referees, who in themselves are as valuable to the fabric of football as the football stars themselves."

Mr Romanov added: "Supporters deserve a new beginning and have to accept the fact that their club has to start from the lower league, keeping order in the SPL and without creating unfair competition with other clubs."

Earlier this year Hearts were served with a winding up order by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) over an unpaid tax bill. The court order was dismissed after the Tynecastle club paid their debts to the tax authority in full in February.

The businessman owns a controlling stake in UBIG, which the club owed £22.4m by the end of June 2011, according to its last annual accounts.

Mr Romanov added: "As regards the pitiful state of Scottish football finances, a lot of the blame should be placed at the doors of Murdoch's media. They pay huge sums to English clubs, whilst in Scotland, where football is better supported per capita than anywhere else in Europe and there are more cable or Sky subscribers per capita than in England, clubs receive peanuts for their broadcasting rights.

"At the very least this is discrimination and protectionism for the English football product, which at the same time stunts the development of the game in Scotland, that is regarded as the cradle of football.

"I feel that it is absolutely realistic to create a company that would bring to Scottish clubs at least the same broadcasting income, and even grow it by 50-100% over the next two to three years. This company should be in the hands of Scottish clubs and work with those who want to earn money the honest way, instead of conducting business the Murdoch way."

The Hearts owner, who does not hold an official position with the SPL club, said that those responsible for the financial meltdown at Rangers have "lived beyond law and all morals, and should now be declared beyond the pale" while he felt their deeds had allowed the "destruction of integrity in sport."

In the Hearts’ last audited accounts, it was noted that the club’s debts had fallen from £36.1m in 2010 to £24m by last June. This was because around £10m of the money owed to UBIG was exchanged for shares in the club, while £8.8m owed to Panama-registered Natborg Projects Corp was forgiven as they were a "related party" to Hearts.

Auditors Johnston Carmichael LLP noted that the club made a £511,000 profit between August 2010 and June last year, but Hearts "has incurred significant operating losses in recent years and trading activities result in significant ongoing increases in debt."

The accounts released in April noted that the debt owed to UBIG was at 4.5% interest and that the bank continues to provide "short term loans and funding to allow the company to meet its day-to-day funding requirements." Johnstone Carmichael said in the report that the directors of Hearts, including Mr Romanov’s son Roman, had "received written confirmation from the directors of UAB UGIB that it will provide sufficient funding to enable the company to meet its liabilities as they fall due for the foreseeable future."

However, the auditors felt that there had been "limited" evidence provided to them about whether the bank is "able to meet its commitment to provide sufficient funding to enable to company [Hearts] to meet its liabilities".

In 2010 both the Edinburgh side and Rangers were named in the 'football secrecy league', which was published by international development agency Christian Aid.

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