By Paul Nicholson
June 11 – UEFA and FIFA’s failure to get any kind of control or governance over Greek football is reaching unprecedented levels even by their own woeful standards. The integrity of the game in Greece was hammered again with news that champion club AEK’s owner Dimitris Melissanidis is under investigation for accounting fraud.
Greek football, long plagued by betting related match-fixing was shaken to its core at the end of the season when PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis stormed on to the field of play bearing a sidearm to remonstrate with and threaten the referee over decisions he felt were not going his team’s way against AEK.
Savvidis was eventually banned for just three years and PAOK was docked three (meaningless)s points. Most believe the ban is meaningless and he is still running the club.
Melissanidis’ issues have far greater repercussions for him personally as they involve international investigations with the US Department of Justice having been informed of the fraud allegations and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and FBI reportedly both investigating.
The fraud concerns the sale of Melissanidis stake in the Aegean Petroleum company in August 2016 for $100 million. Prior to the sale it was stated there were $200 million of receivables recorded in Aegean’s balance sheet from four companies.
The current board of Aegean says there was approximately $172 million as of December 31, 2016 and $85 million as of December 31, 2015 due from these four counterparties but there was no business that could account for these sums and that they had been manufactured to inflate the value of the company and hence boost the value of Melissanidis’ shares.
The current board has applied to have the $200 million written off resulting in losses of up to 50% for shareholders.
If found guilty of defrauding investors in the US Melissanidis faces significant jail time.
In a football context, in 2016 Melissanidis took the moral high ground in Greece with accusations of manipulation of matches and acts of violence against officials – all dismissed by Greece’s courts. It now appears this could have been a smokescreen to build his own reputation as an honest actor and an individual of high integrity, while covering up a series of dubious deals while he sold his stake in Aegean. Greek football appears to have been a useful vehicle in this regard and the Greek justice system an easily manipulable tool.
That UEFA and FIFA have repeatedly failed to act in Greece – they can only clean up football but their attempts have been perfunctory – shames them as much as it does the Greek authorities.
A look at Melissanidis history shows he has never been far from controversy and in a season of rampant match-fixing, and threatening behaviour by armed club owners, he looks to be of the profile that fits right in – not least within UEFA and FIFA circles.
Melissanidis received his first bribery conviction for paying off two players in an amateur football league in the 1980s, according to his profile on Wikipedia.
Incredibly he became an owner in betting company OPAP, one of Europe’s largest gaming companies, in 2013, with seemingly no questions asked about any potential conflict. OPAP became €2.1 million sponsors of AEK as well as a number of other clubs who subsequently pulled out of their contracts complaining of unfair competition due to Melissanidis’ managerial involvement in both the club and the betting firm.
But perhaps the darkest side of Melissanidis and the way he is prepared to operate is in his interaction with Lefteris Charalambopoulos, the Greek journalist (who has written for Insideworldfootball) who wrote about his Aegean Oil dealmaking.
Calling from an Aegean Oil number and identifying himself as Dimitris Melissanidis he threatened Charalambopoulos’ life repeatedly, saying: “I could have you killed without having warned you. But I am a man and I’m gonna have you blown up in your sleep. I’ll have you killed, you, your wife, your children, everything you’ve got.”
When Charalambopoulos told him he would alert the authorities, he replied: “Screw you and the authorities. I don’t understand anything, I am Melissanidis. You will not be able to sleep. You will not be able to go out, I’ll be your nightmare. Fear of me will haunt you. They will come to your house and blow you up in your sleep. I am used to talking to big journalists. I looked you up and I will tear you down.”
Clearly the ball is in UEFA and FIFA’s court to deal with the Greek situation. You could probably get good odds on whether they really have the inclination to do that at OPAP.
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