Ivan Savvidis loves football. This was evident already back in the time he was a dynamic and aspiring businessman in post-communist Russia. At that period he was involved with the management of Rostov FC.
However, it was then that this particular football cup/ Club? was often mentioned in SportRadar’s weekly alerts about illegal betting.
There was a time when this particular football club had more alerts than any other in Europe in SportRadar’s tracking system of games with suspicions of manipulation and illegal betting.
“If you don’t know about this president, you can always ask”
Ivan Savvidis has chosen from the beginning to speak in public in a way that seems particular, even for Greek football standards.
To give just an example, one of his statements when he first came to Greece made a lasting impression: “If they do not know about me, they can ask and find out”. The threatening tone was not exactly subtle.
Some years ago he also shared his…programmatic vision for the destruction of “Athenian football”.
This was in 2016 and Ivan Savvidis was not speaking in Greece but in New York in front of PAOK fans from the Greek-American Diaspora. He insisted that “we will win only if we destroy the system. When I go to sleep, I dream of the complete dismantling of Athenian football”. Not exactly a form of constructive criticism, especially in front of a Greek-American audience.
The attempt to take control of the Hellenic Football Federation and the good relationship with Alexis Tsipras
In the same speech, Savvidis insisted that his guiding principle is that “it is better not to win a championship than to buy a championship”
However, he did not explain that, what he meant was that it is not enough to manipulate a championship; what matters is to control a federation.
Coming from Russia, a country with a strong tradition in state intervention, Ivan Savvidis knew that in order to control a sports federation, it is important to have political power on your side. Especially, when we are talking about the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO).
This can explain why he invested so much in a good relationship with Alexis Tsipras. This was not the result of ideological affiliation. Savvidis political statements point towards a mixture of nationalism, conservatism and a constant attempt to be the self-proclaimed representative of Pontic Hellenism and of North Greeks that have been treated unfairly by an athenocentric state.
This perhaps can explain why Savvidis insisted on May 2017 that Tsipras reminded him of Putin, urging fellow Greeks to “Hold on to Tsipras. He is the condition of a successful future”. It was in the same interview that he made the prediction – that soon was proved to be wrong – that “Mitsotakis will never become prime minister”.
All these were not the result of some spontaneous idealism. They were translated in very ‘material’ terms.
Savvidis will benefit in many instances from Alexis Tsipras’s government. In his business deals he saw the passing of legislation that enabled SEKAP, a tobacco company he had bought, to get rid of fines of tens of millions of euros. In regards to football Savvidis saw that the infamous process of “cleaning” Greek football, which was Greece’s commitment to the international federations in order to avoid the possibility of “Football Grexit”, in the end turned to be a facilitation of the process of controlling Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) and of the plans of PAOK’s owner to win a championship.
Naturally, PAOK’s leading figure also took the initiative. With his friends he made sure that Grammenos would be elected as president of Hellenic Football Federation (EPO). This came after making sure that elections in local football associations moved to the right direction. Many insist that in these elections the desired outcome came after passing around black plastic bags carrying the necessary… convincing arguments.
There was a special committee that took over this task comprised by Gagatsis, Tevekelis, Pourliotopoulos but also Gagatsis shadow collaborator Diamantidis.
A special love for… referees
PAOK must be the only team in Greek football with three former referees on its pay-roll: Tevekelis, Saraidaris (who paid the price for the unconfirmed health certificates in the match with AEK FC) and Kakos (who is an employee of Open Television).
For this practice there has never been an official explanation. What’s the use of these referees, unless they want to influence those referees that are now active? The explanation they have offered, namely that they use them for training and learning, does not sound very convincing.
Armed intrusion to a fooball field
On March 2018 the match in Thessaloniki between PAOK and AEK was interrupted by the Ivan Savvidis’s intrusion to the football field. To the surprise of all, PAOK’s owner was carrying a gun and his picture with a clearly visible gun holster in his waist made international headlines. Despite this being a criminal offence PAOK’s owner was not immediately arrested. On the 16th of October 2020 his trial was again postponed. This was the fifth time it was postponed. The next trial date – for the next postponement?– is set for the 14th of May 2021.
The result of this incident is that PAOK was suspended for six months from the European Club Association.
The ‘Olympiacos – Platanias’ case and how the accuser was rewarded
In 2017 there was an attempt to set up Olympiacos FC. Officials of Platanias FC will make allegations about being attached by security guards after the end of their team’s match with Olympiacos at the Karaiskaki stadium.
In the first instance Olympiacos was punished with three matches without spectators for an incident of “mild tension and in any case not one that could cause any bodily harm to anyone”. At the appeal phase all charges were dropped. The set-up failed.
The main person making these allegations was Christos Karypidis and Apostolopoulos, another former PAOK player. Karypidis is related (best man) to Vangelis Pourliotopoulos who is involved not only in PAOK’s Academies but also in the elections for Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) and in the elections of the regional football associations.
It is worth noting that at that moment Karypidis was seen (and photographed) in Chania drinking coffee with Vangelis Pourliotopoulos and some of the players of Platanias FC, with the obvious intention to persuade them to support the allegations that they were attacked and beaten up at Karaiskaki and with the obvious aim to get Olympiacos punished. There was information circulating at that period that there was a “price” of 30,000 euros for any false testimony.
But it seems that in PAOK they know how to be grateful: Christos Karypidis is now PAOK’s team manager, succeeding N.P. who’s s implicated in Siampanis statements about the bribe attempt.
Why own just one team?
Ivan Savvidis bought the facilities of Xanthi FC through his relative Ioannis Kalpazidis (who although nominally a simple employee of SEKAP Tobacco company, could spend millions).
In June-July 2018, the period of the changes in the board of Xanthi FC, Ioannis Kalpazidis received in his personal account in Alpha bank three payments from RFA totaling 6.7 million euros. The same day he transferred 6.7 million to the account of Dimera at Piraeus Bank in order for it to be transferred to PAOK in order to cover its debts from UEFA’s Financial Fair Play, since it was always under supervision. But Dimera is the company that owns 80% of the stocks of PAOK FC. On August 30, 2018 Kalpazidis bought all the facilities of Xanthi FC (offices, football fields, training centers etc) and placed as CEO of the company (VIALAND) the CEO of Xanthi FC for 10 years, Aristeidis Pialoglou. Just a coincidence?
It is obvious that we are dealing with a case of someone acting as an ‘intermediate’ person for money transfers within the same corporate group, a practice often related to money laundering schemes.
Both Xanthi and PAOK faced the danger of relegation, PAOK will be spared such punishment after a last minute change in legislation. However, the fact remains that the relevant authorities concluded that we were dealing with a case of common ownership.
Savvidis’s media endeavours and acting like the “Lord of Thessaloniki”
Savvidis found ways to express his gratitude towards SYRIZA. For example he will take part in the effort, orchestrated by SYRIZA, to change the media landscape. This was also due to the fact that he proved more reliable than Kalogridis, SYRIZA’s initial choice of media ‘investor’, who could not raise the necessary funds.
Consequently, Savvidis, who once stated that he entered the first auction of TV broadcasting licenses only to help raise the premium paid, managed to become the owner of a TV channel (Open), bought an historic newspaper (Ethnos) and attempted to obtain the media of the former Lambrakis News Organisation (DOL).
In regards to the political line Ivan Savvidis was clear: there were three subjects where no negative comment was allowed: Orthodox Church, SYRIZA and PAOK FC.
Even in regards to the so-called ‘Macedonian Question’, where one could have expected that such a supporter of the “Macedonia is Greek” position would have taken a militant stance against SYRIZA. Instead, Savvidis opted for a low key approach and the “people of PAOK” received a message to “self-restrain” and that as compensation PAOK would receive the championship.
Perhaps this was also determined by some ‘leaks’ by American intelligence agencies to major new outlets, ‘leaks’ that pointed towards him being part of a broader network of Russian influence in the Balkans. This could explain his ‘self-restraint’ but also his absence from Greece for many months.
At the same time Savvidis attempted to increase his influence in the city of Thessaloniki and become its unofficial ‘Lord’. For example many see his shadow behind the final results of the second round of the municipal elections in Greece’s second largest city.
Moreover, he continued to foster good relations with the police force. It was not by accident that in 2018 he put in the board of PAOK FC Thessaloniki’s longest serving General Police Director, Tryphonas Koukios. In Thessaloniki there is talk about continuous relations with Greek Police Officers that are active and are also connected to sports activities.
When simple persuasion is not enough
In Francis Ford Coppola’s film ‘The Godfather’, there is the famous Don Corleone / Marlon Brando line “I will make him an offer he can’t refuse”, which encapsulated the Mob’s art of persuasion.
We do not know if there are similar phrases in the Russian tradition. But in PAOK’s recent history we can see some instance of its practical application.
One such case was about the coach Giorgos Donis. He was fired and demanded what was stated in his contract. However, Savvidis had a different opinion and his associates used several means to this end.
At that period, Savvidi’s man in PAOK was German Tsistiakov. When the case of this “divorce” between PAOK and Donis landed in the Greek courts, Donis’s lawyer presented threatening messages by Tsistiakov aiming at persuading Donis to resign. Here is the dialogue.
Tsistiakov: “Hi. I am sorry if I make something wrong, but I want you to think that they will kill you! Imagine that you give a battle for your money and how the fans and the media will react…”
Donis: “We have made a deal with the owner, we have families, but you do not respect us, you have thrown us to the garbage! You want me to resign so that I and my associates do not get our money…”
Tsistiakov: “Giorgos, you have to understand that I am not the one paying you. Think of the situation and how dangerous you make it…”
Arson and bombs
In another instance this did not remain at the level of threats. On August 30, 2015 four persons entered the courtyard of the La Challe Hotel in Xanthi. They wanted to arson the car of Razvan Lucescu, coach of Xanthi FC, in order to intimidate and blackmail him. Seeing only one car with Romanian plates they assume that this Lucescu’s car. In fact it was the car of his cousin Dragos Lucescu. A few days ago the Xanthi-PAOK match had ended with a draw 0-0 and this was not exactly good news for the Thessaloniki team. Two years later Lucescu becomes PAOK’s coach.
The transcripts of legal phone wiretaps that are part of a criminal investigation show the leader of the criminal organization that undertook this ‘job’, speaking with the person that actually performed it and makes it evident that this is a case about PAOK and that contact was made with a PAOK official.
A few days later, members of the same criminal organization proceed to the arson of the car of Giannis Evangelopoulos’s wife. He is a manager of football players in Super League teams and foreign championships. His is also the owner and CEO of Ace Management and of Promosport. According to the judicial investigation Evangelopoulos also received a phone call with threats for his life. Evangelopoulos was representing Fanis Tzandaris which chose Olympiacos proposal over PAOK’s and the player with the Albanian national team Ergys Kaçe that did not renew his contract with PAOK.
A few days ago Grand Agajanian, a inmate at Trikala Prison, with heavy sentences and according to authorities a leading role in extortion cases, received, according to a judicial investigation and a legal wiretap, a visit by a certain “Spyros”, for whom he says “In PAOK, this is the one”. According to the judicial investigation this “Spyros” is in fact Spyros Milioridis, a PAOK official. He insists that he does not receive any payment for his services to the team and is just a ‘fan’. In fact Spyros Milioridis for many years has been an official of PAOK. He entered the board of PAOK in 2008, when the leading figure in the Club was Thodoris Zagorakis. In 2013, a little after Savvidis’s arrival he resigned and according to statements he made, he returned ‘to the ranks of the grand army of PAOK fans’, only to return two years later, not as a member of the management, but with the responsibility of contact with organized fans.
On the October 20, 2020 Spyros Milioridis was sentenced to two years of prison for his participation in the above mentioned criminal organization (moral instigation).
Invoices for the alleged arsonists paid by a Savvidis’s company
In Thessaloniki on February 7, 2017 the Extortion crimes unit, following an order from the 5th Special Narcotics Investigation Unit of Thessaloniki, proceeded to search the accounting department of PAOK FC and confiscated two invoices, one expenses document and two receipts.
These invoices refer to:
-23/09/15 the airline from which the flight of the team for the Atromitos PAOK match was chartered.
-25/09/15 issued in the name of Erizian for a stay in Athens (in the ledger this is mentioned as ‘wrong entry’)
-19/10/15 expense credit for Erizian’s stay in Athens on 25/09/15
-29/09/15 Expenses receipt for Spyridon Milioridis (team expenses)
-12/10/15 Expenses receipt for Spyridon Milioridis (expenses)
For these invoices we also have a testimony that is part of the case file. This is a deposition by the employee of the travel agent: “On the morning of 25/09/2020 I received a phone call from the agency’s owner […] in order to make a booking for a three-bed apartment in which three persons were going to stay. Because it was difficult to find a room I remember that the booking was made in the name ERIZIAN Edgar and was about one night and those staying in the room were supposed to be out of it by the 26/09/2015, and this is what happened. The hotel I arranged for this stay was again the ‘ATHENS HABITAT’, because of its convenient location. The invoices for these stays were originally made to PAOK FC, but for reasons I do not remember they were annulled and new invoices were issued for these days to “DIMERA” company, which paid for them”.
Simos Simeonidis is not just a travel agent. According to information, it is the person that arranges for all PAOK teams’ travels abroad, in regards to tickets and hotel stays, food and he also accompanies the team in such travels.
This means that there is a deposition under oath that states that the invoices of the stay of the persons that are accused of coming to Athens to arson a car belonging to the wife of the football manager Evangelopoulos were originally issued by PAOK’s travel agent in the name of PAOK FC and then in the name of Dimera, which a corporation owned by Ivan Savvidis. Actually, Savvidis investments in Greece (such as those in Mass Media) are usually channeled through Dimera.
In particular the invoices for Edgar Eritzian’s stays at the Athens Habitat Hotel were issued in the name of Dimera Group Single Member LLC, one of the companies of Dimera Group, whose balance sheet for 2014 was signed by Artur Davidian, one of Ivan Savvidis’s closest associates.
The not so accidental death of a Bulgarian fan of Aris FC
On January 5, 2020 Tosko Bozadzhiyski, a Bulgarian fan of Aris FC was killed during an attack by organized PAOK FC fans. He was run over by a car as he was trying to flee. For this case initially there were charges against some PAOK hooligans that took part in the attack, but then the focus was shifted to the owner of the car that ran over the Bulgarian fan. The investigation showed that the car had been leased to Theodoros Grammatikopoulos and that the driver that went to the police to testify that she was the one driving the car when the Bulgarian fan was hit, was his girlfriend.
Grammatikopoulos comes from the broader environment of organized fans and was sitting at the same café where the Bulgarians were also sitting, happy that Aris FC had won that day.
According to the police investigation, when Grammatikopoulos saw Aris fans sitting at the café, he contacted by phone some PAOK hooligans and asked them to come and attack the Bulgarian fans who were just sitting there.
Some ten minutes later, the “attack group” arrived and Grammatikopoulos went with them, but first he told his friend to leave. She got in the car and started off until Bozadzhiyski fell in front of the car during his attempt to escape the beating he was receiving in the café’s parking lot.
The police investigating this case have reached the conclusion that her initial statement during the judicial inquiry, when she talked about a “fight” that supposedly was the reason for her attempt to leave the café in a hurry was not a truthful description of what happened.
And they also believe that it was not an accident that Grammatikopoulos erased all his mobile phone’s data, before handing it over the police, something that suggests an effort to make it impossible to trace back his communication that day with hooligans and potentially with PAOK officials.
Grammatikopoulos is not just another PAOK fan. He is also a close friend of Giannis Diamantidis. The company that Diamantidis’s father established was contracted to renovate Macedonia Palace Hotel, after it was taken over by Ivan Savvidis, but also of PAOK’s boutique.
A fan of PAOK, but also someone involved in football affairs as a member of various commissions of the Association of Football Clubs of Macedonia (championship commissions, public relations commission, and special counsel on matters of EPO), Giannis Diamantidis is also a friend of Makis Gagatsis, the vice president of PAOK FC
Diamantidis name was also heard in relation to a bombing attack. On February 1,2018, a little before 4 am, two persons, apparently on a motorbike, stopped outside the furniture store of Diamantidis Company, left an explosive device outside the door and sped off. The explosion caused damage to the store and some nearby stores.
A web of companies and the… Transnistria connection
Ivan Savvidis’s business empire is built around the AGROKOM group of companies. The “jewel in the crown of the group” was until 2018, when Savvidis decided to sell it, Donskoy Tabak. This is the company where he started his career. It is one of the biggest cigarette makers in Russia.
A few years ago it was at the centre of an investigation on cigarette smuggling. The reason was that it was appearing to make excessive cigarette exports to Transistria.
Transnistria is part of Moldova until it seceded towards Russia, although the secession never received international recognition. It is considered a customs ‘hole’ and a ‘smuggling center’.
An investigation by Romanian journalists showed that most cigarette brands one can find in Transnistria are made by Donskoy Tabak.
Moreover, two of the main companies taking part in these exports were Innovation Tobacco Company and Richmond Tobacco Trading. Innovation was owned by Belterra Holdings, a Cyprus-based off-shore company, which has as shareholders Savvidis’s son and wife and later passed to Donskoy Tabak. 50% of Richmond Tobacco Trading was owned by Savvidis’s wife and then was passed to the ownership of Dimera Ltd, a Cyprus based company also affiliated to Savvidis. It is important to note that in Dimera’s financial statements for 2013 RFA, which was involved in the PAOK – Xanthi multi-ownership scandal, but also Richmond and Innovation Tobaco are referred to as affiliated companies, and along with them PAOK .
The bribery case
In light of the above, we can understand why the recent case of an attempted bribery of Ari FC players was not an “isolated incident”.
Especially when references are made to Nontas Papaepaminondas, a former PAOK team manager, who along with a well known in Thessaloniki hired goon with a criminal record offered huge amounts (from 50,000 to 100,000) to bribe Siampanis and Kace (Nontas knew them from PAOK) and Delizisis.
How it is organized
All these point towards the formation of an organization, whose traits we can find in all the incidents we discussed so far.
On top we have Ivan Savvidies. Through his family, namely his wife, his son but also the… “businessman of the year” Kalpazidis, he controls a network of companies whose traits we can find in many instances, from invoices for hotel stays of arsonists to investigations of cigarette smuggling.
Savvidis’s orders in the official PAOK structure are being carried by Maria Goncharova, who is considered to be Savvidis’s right hand (and eye) in all his activities in Greece and Makis Gagatsis. Goncharove also keeps the connection to Milioridis and his more ‘dynamic’ initiatives.
On the other hand, Gagatsis is responsible for the coordination with Tevekelis and Pourliotopoulos for the interventions in EPO, the elections etc. However, Gagatsis also is connected to Diamantidis who, in his turn, is responsible for the relation with ‘fans’ such as Grammatikopoulos and ‘officials’ like Papaepaminondas.
What about the justice system
All the cases we have discussed are well known and undeniable facts. They are neither isolated incidents, nor things that “just happen” in Greek football. Rather, the point towards something that points to the logic of a criminal organization.
We are not attorneys or prosecutors and it is not our job to define the criminal character of actions or to issue criminal charges. However, we believe that this time the judicial system cannot ignore so easily these facts and in particular the way they are connected and how they point towards to an organized decision centre.
At the same time, this poses the real challenge of those institutional initiatives that could finally offer better and more stable bases for Greek football.