News analysis: Greek courts starts to unravel football allegations

greece crime scene

By Lefteris Charalambopoulos

November 9 – An irreversible decision issued by the Council of Appeals Court Judges in Athens, Greece, charging 28 individuals of match-fixing,  drops four charges against Evangelos Marinakis and puts an end to speculation and some wild allegations against the shipping magnate and owner of Olympiakos. It also raises questions about the depth of the malaise and infighting that plagues Greek football.

Marinakis has not been charged with the felony of setting up a criminal organisation, despite the media-driven narrative that he was the ‘leader’ of this, (now ruled non-existent) “criminal organisation”.

The Council, with a majority vote, has charged Marinakis with the felony of match-fixing and the misdemeanor of forming a gang. Interestingly, among the minority vote, who voted for the dropping of all charges against Marinakis, is the judge who presides the Council.

The decision puts an end to the media frenzy around Marinakis’ alleged involvement in the particular case and the so-called “criminal organisation”, as well as the separate allegation (there was never any evidence) that he was the “mastermind” behind an arson attack on a private property (a bakery) belonging to a former referee.

It is worth noting that the former referee is now a member of the Greek parliament, elected with the governing SYRIZA party.

The forces stacked against Marinakis had their ‘story’ promoted aggressively in Greek media, with it presented as facts and products of official investigations despite the fact that the case was still under examination – the reporting reached the point where it appeared an organised effort to influence the public view and pressurize Greek judges, endangering Marinakis’ right to a fair trial.

What the decision by the judges now does is remove issue from trial by media, leaks and fake news and put the remaining case into the Greek courts, where it belongs and where proper witnesses will be heard and real evidence will have to be provided.

According to Greek legal experts, match-fixing is a felony when there is proof of a financial motive related to the fixing of the betting market. That means that the court of law will require hard evidence – which does not include testimonies based on one’s…intuition – that Marinakis and others, not only fixed football matches, but that they also fixed the betting market in order to gain profit.

The same Greek legal sources stress that this is a serious offence which should be proven without any reasonable doubt which, according to the case files, appears highly unlikely. Simply put, not enough evidence has been presented to support the allegation against Marinakis. According to the same sources, that leads to two possible scenarios.

The first is the drop of all charges by the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, who will most probably take into account the fact that this was the vote cast by the Council’s head judge.

The second is the drop of the felony charge and then, possibly, the charging of Marinakis with the misdemeanor of bribery. Which, again, will have to be proven in the court of law.

As for the misdemeanor of forming a “gang”, if the trial is to take place in 2019 or later (which is realistic), the alleged misdemeanor will likely have fallen outside the Greek statute of limitiations – effectively time barred.

Prevailing legal opinion is that Marinakis will be found not guilty, assuming it even gets to trial.

Despite what is now a much clearer legal picture in Greece, Greek media are still insisting on “blurring” the facts and the legal terminology, for example, deliberately “confusing” misdemeanors for felonies and presenting the charge of leading a criminal organization and the charge of forming a gang as the same, which by Greek law they are not.

Pushing the theme further, some media reports allege (perhaps campaigning?) that the case will lead to punishment of Olympiakos, and even to their disqualification from the national championship – a highly unlikely scenario. New charges would have to be made, more investigation would have to take place and hard evidence would have to be provided in order to punish Olympiakos as a club. Charges against Olympiakos for match-fixing have already been investigated and tried (the case raised by Veria being the example) from which club has been acquitted.

Meanwhile, Marinakis, in what could be interpreted as a sign of his wish to cooperate with the authorities to put an end to this case, has voluntarily stepped down from his role as the president of Olympiakos. The position has been assumed by the mayor of Piraeus, the club’s hometown , Giannis Moralis. Moralis was, for many years, a member of the club’s administration until his election. The club’s shareholding structure will remain intact until further notice.

One cannot tell if the trial of this case will shed light on the numerous actual problems of Greek football. It certainly looks like an opportunity to put an end to speculation based on intuition, competing agendas, rivalries and fanaticism. What we can tell so far though, is that the wild accusations driven through the press have now been, officially, proven to be fabrications circulated by sources whose motives now appear more transparent than ever.

In a legal case that was clouded by efforts to influence its outcome, optimism lies in the belief that Greece is a state governed by law, where powers are separated and a fair trial is an undisputable, protected right for each and every one of its citizens.

Lefteris Charalambopoulos is an investigative reporter based in Athens. Contact him at moc.l1511074010labto1511074010ofdlr1511074010owedi1511074010sni@o1511074010fni1511074010