March 23 – Following the gun-toting antics of PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis that led to the suspension of the Greek Super League, further information is emerging purportedly linking Savvidis, his associates and his companies to more criminal violence and intimidation in Greek football dating back to 2015.
Greek website news.in.gr has revealed that a hotel invoice for the stay in Athens of individuals accused of participation in a criminal blackmailing ring was initially issued in the name of PAOK FC, and then reissued in the name of Ivan Savvidis’ Dimera Company.
On 30 August, 2015, four people entered the courtyard of the La Challe Hotel in Xanthi, with the aim of torching Xanthi head coach Razvan Lucescu’s car. They infact torched the wrong car but a message was sent.
A few days earlier a Xanthi-PAOK match had ended in a 0-0 draw. Two years later, Lucescu was appointed coach of PAOK FC.
Setting fire to cars seems to be a favourite form of intimidation in Greek football. A few weeks later, on 14 October, 2015, three members of the same criminal organisation set fire to the car of the wife of Yannis Evangelopoulos.
Evangelopoulos was the agent for Yannis Tzandaris who joined Olympiakos instead of taking up an offer from PAOK FC. He also represented Ergys Kace, an Albanian defensive midfielder, who chose not to renew his contract with PAOK.
Armenian Edgar Eritsyan, and Spyros Milioridis, who was in charge of PAOK’s relations with fan groups, and who had previously served as a member of the Board of PAOK FC, were both being investigated as suspects.
Eritsyan’s stay in Athens, which coincided with the days of the arson attack on the car of Evangelopoulos’ wife, were initially issued for PAOK FC, though new invoices were issued by the hotel for the Dimera Company, which is Savvidis’ company in Greece.
The leader of the gang responsible for setting the cars alight is believed to be Grant Agatzanian, who is already serving time in a Greek jail.
While the Greek police appear to have uncovered wider links to football and PAOK in particular, the appetite for public prosecution appears to be limited with speculation in Greece being that Savvidis is too closely linked to Greece’s political elite. Government ministers have frequently shared his hospitality at PAOK matches, while the Greek government has actively courted Russian investment and money. Savvidis is a Russian oligarch of Greek descent who has served in the Russian government and has previously been close to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Whatever the real truth is in Greece, the reality is that the criminal underworld has crossed into the running of football and the pursuit of personal glory. FIFA have been in Athens once again to patch over a crisis many in the country claim they created with their decision-making failures. At present the Super League is suspended and this week is the international break. But with the Greek Super League poised in a three-way battle between arch rivals PAOK, AEK and Olympiakos, it will take a significant act of diplomacy (and some hard decisions) to get the season finished without further incident.
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