By Paul Nicholson
December 4 – A club ownership storm has broken in Greece linking controversial Russian-Greek oligarch Ivan Savvidis to control of two clubs in the Greek Super League.
Since taking control of Northern Greek club PAOK in 2012, Savvidis has rarely been out of news as he has battled to return the club to its former glories and which culminated last season in PAOK’s all-conquering league and cup double – PAOK were undefeated in the league.
Now it appears Savvidis also has control of Xanthi FC. PAOK is currently tied at the top of the Greek Super League on 28 points with arch rivals Olympiacos. Xanthi are in fourth place on 19 points.
A report by the recently launched ONE channel TV Station has uncovered a money and ownership trail linking Xanthi to Savvidis via his Cyprus-based holding company RFA, the corporate vehicle that holds the ownerships of a number of Savvidis’s investments and through which the bulk of his business dealings appear to be funnelled.
In 2018 Ioannis Kalpazidis, Savvidis’s nephew, acquired the facilities of Xanthi FC via RFA for a sum believed to be €10 million. RFA bought the shares of Vialand, which owns, among other local assets, Xanthi’s stadium and training ground as well as the nearby hotel.
ONE Channel (owned by Olympiacos’s owner Evangelos Marinakis) shows in its report how RFA is closely connected to another Cyprus-based corporation, Dimera, which has made multiple loans to RFA companies. Dimera bought the shares of PAOK in 2012. It appears that the paper owner of Dimera could have supplied the finance to acquire the Vialand business.
The links between the organisations go deeper than the paper transactions with Aristeidis Pialoglou, who sits on the board of Xanthi – he is president and CEO of the club – also appearing as CEO of RFA-owned Vialand (owner of Xanthi’s facilities). The report also highlights Nikolas Xalavazis, who is the president of the Savvidis family business and a member of the board of Xanthi FC.
Greek federation rules forbid multiple club ownership with sanctions including the possibility of relegation for both clubs as well as life bans from football for individuals.
Savvidis has generally shown a disregard of football’s authorities but has courted Greece’s political elite, frequently hosting them at PAOK matches. Born in Tsalka, Georgia and of Pontian descent, he was a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin and is a former member of the State Duma becoming one of Russia’s wealthiest men after becoming the major shareholder of Russia’s largest tobacco company, Donskoy Tabak, in the 1990s, now owned by Japan Tobacco International.
The Savvidis ownership of PAOK and his battles for power within Greek football have led to multiple allegations of match-fixing and manipulation in a league that has been plagued with suspicious results and whose biggest matches are now refereed by teams of foreign referees, such is the distrust within the game.
In March 2018 Savvidis stormed on to the pitch to threaten a referee after a goal was disallowed for PAOK in the top of the table clash with AEK Athens. Savvidis entered the field of play twice, the second time without his jacket and with a holstered pistol strapped to his hip.
Savvidis was eventually banned for three years and PAOK was docked three points, effectively ending their already dwindling title hopes.
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