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SYRIZA "cleans up" football by rewarding violence and its favorite oligarchs

PAOK FC, owned by pro-SYRIZA oligarch Ivan Savvidis, has penalty for object thrown by fans at opposing coach reversed, while SYRIZA claims it has “cleaned up” Greek football.

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It was about a year ago when Greek football, including professional clubs and the national team, faced the specter of being suspended from all international competition, following “reforms” which the SYRIZA government attempted to ram through which would have formally created state oversight of the country’s national football federation and football leagues.
Faced with the threat of expulsion from international play, the “reforms” were eventually diluted enough to avert such an outcome. However, numerous other changes, including the restructuring of the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) board of directors and roster of referees, moved forward. These “reforms” were enacted purportedly to “eliminate corruption” in Greek football.
That “catharsis” has been on full and proud display this season, as two teams in particular, AEK FC (based in Athens) and PAOK FC (based in Thessaloniki) have been the seeming beneficiaries of this new state of affairs. Refereeing, purportedly “cleaned up” as part of these “reforms,” has been brazenly and unabashed favorable to these two squads, with numerous matches decided on dubious decisions or “missed” calls.
It is surely a coincidence that the presidents of these two teams, wealthy oligarchs Dimitris Melissanidis and Ivan Savvidis, are strong supporters of the current SYRIZA-led government, as well as beneficiaries of the current regime as well.
It is Melissanidis who, along with Czech investors, has taken ownership of the privatized national lottery and sports betting organization OPAP, all the while being the president competing in the very same domestic football league for which OPAP accepts bets. Conflict of interest is apparently an unknown phrase in the ranks of the SYRIZA-led government.
In the 1980s, Melissanidis was twice charged with bribery. This was followed in 1996 by a five-year prison sentence for tax evasion and oil smuggling. In 2013, Melissanidis allegedly threatened the life a journalist who had published an exposé of the activities of Melissanidis-owned Aegean Oil.
In turn, Ivan Savvidis, a former member of the Russian parliament, has recently purchased, along with foreign investors, the port of Thessaloniki. He owns 100 percent of national television broadcaster Epsilon TV. His investments in Greece include ownership of a soft drink factory, a luxury hotel, an aviation company, and a facility which produces tobacco products and which he threatened to liquidate if debts to the state were not written off.
It seems this close-knit relationship with the government pays dividends on the pitch as well, as AEK FC and PAOK are in a neck-and-neck race for this year’s Super League crown, while perennial champions Olympiacos are middling in third place. The owner of Olympiacos FC, shipping magnate Evaggelos Marinakis, is not known to maintain favorable ties with the SYRIZA-led government.
Recently, a scheduled match between PAOK and Olympiacos never began, after a fan threw an object from the stands which struck the coach of Olympiacos in the head. As per league rules and precedent set after a similar incident last season, where Panathinaikos FC was penalized (interestingly enough in a match against PAOK) after a fan hurled a beer bottle which struck one of PAOK’s players. Panathinaikos lost the game on paper, was docked three additional points in the standings, and its home field was penalized for two matches, where the team played in front of empty stands.

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in the Greek finance ministry in Athens, January 30, 2018. A decal of the Ivan Savvidis-owned PAOK football club is visible in the background. (REUTERS/Costas Baltas)


However, cozy relationships with the centers of power apparently pay off, as in the case of PAOK. Following the incident in the match which never began with Olympiacos, essentially the same penalty was levied as in last year’s incident. However, upon appeal, PAOK’s three deducted points were restored, and the suspension of its home field was dropped, just in time for PAOK to face its rival, AEK, in front of a packed house instead of in front of empty seats. The only part of the initial penalty which remained unchanged was the “outcome” on paper of the PAOK-Olympiacos match that never was, which remains an Olympiacos victory by default. The reversal of the original decision ensures that PAOK remains very much in the hunt for this year’s Super League title.
This decision is scandalous not only due to the fact that a clear and evident double standard was employed, seemingly to protect PAOK. It is scandalous also due to the incredible speed with which the decision was levied. In a country where an ordinary judicial case can drag on for a decade or more, and where previous decisions and appeals involving sporting clubs often took weeks to resolve, the appeal was heard and original decision was overturned all in just over 24 hours and issued at 1 am, during a weekend to boot.
Greece is a country that has a reputation of being inefficient and where the state operates in a frustratingly slow and ponderous manner. The reality is that the Greek system can be frighteningly quick and efficient when deemed politically expedient. This is evidently the case with the ultra-fast decision favoring PAOK issued by the “reformed” EPO, stacked with personnel essentially hand-picked by the SYRIZA-led government.
Sports is politics worldwide (as evidenced by the recent Russian “doping scandal” and actions of the International Olympic Committee), and this is plainly evident in Greece, where teams owned by oligarchs favorable to the government are the beneficiaries of favorable treatment. These oligarchs then utilize the organized supporters of their squads to create “voting blocs” which faithfully and fanatically toe the line laid down by the team president and reinforced through sports newspapers and online portals favorable to the team in question.
As this happens, the SYRIZA government has attempted to score political points by claiming that it has “cleaned up football,” just as it is apparently “fishing out corruption” and “punishing those which brought Greece into its current mess” through the serendipitously-timed “Novartis scandal,” targeting members of the former New Democracy and Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) governments. Coincidentally, these reforms in the sports world favored pro-SYRIZA oligarchs, and coincidentally, the “Novartis scandal” successfully removed the massive Macedonia demonstrations and their aftermath, from the news cycle and from public discourse.
And unfortunately, for those who have even a cursory understanding of both the Greek sporting world and Greek politics, the decision to overturn the penalty against PAOK comes as no surprise. This author was at a café in Athens to watch the PAOK-Olympiacos match that never was, and overheard a conversation from the neighboring table, where a PAOK fan who was from Thessaloniki and who apparently had a contact within PAOK’s management reassured her friends that “Kontonis will overturn any decision against PAOK” (referring to former deputy minister of athletics and current justice minister Stavros Kontonis). It looks like her source within PAOK was well informed.
This decision now sets a new precedent, where any teams whose fans bring dangerous objects into the stadium, throw objects and strike opposing players and coaches, will essentially walk away unpunished. So much for SYRIZA’s efforts to “clean up” Greek football. And anyone who believes that this decision was reached without the influence of the highest ladders of power in Greek society, is sadly delusional.
Furthermore, the decision to reverse the previous decision at 1 am before game day and to allow tomorrow’s PAOK-AEK match to go forward with spectators begs the question: when did the tax authorities manage to certify the tickets for Sunday’s game? Did they do so on Friday, before the decision was even issued, knowing what it would be? Or are we expected to believe the tax office will open on Sunday, just for PAOK?

A… motorcycle brought into the stands in the supposedly secure PAOK FC stadium in Thessaloniki, prior to the PAOK-Olympiacos match which never began, February 25, 2018.


Such are “reforms,” SYRIZA-style, in Greece today. While “unlicensed” elderly chestnut vendors are thrown in jail an issued steep fines and while those who set a bank branch ablaze during protests in 2010, killing three people including a pregnant mother-to-be, have not ever been apprehended or charged; hooligans can throw objects, injure opposing teams’ coaches, and bring entire… motorcycles into a supposedly secure stadium (this also happened during the PAOK-Olympiacos match that never was) and go largely unpunished. And for such reforms, SYRIZA’s legions of supporters repeatedly claim, as if reading off a script, that SYRIZA is “doing away with the old corruption.” Perhaps it is, by rewarding the renewed corruption of its supporters, friends, and cronies.
Opinions expressed are those of the author alone and may not reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Hellenic Insider, its publisher, its editors, or its staff, writers, and contributors.

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit plan continues to fail, as EU now pushing for UK to leave (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 138.

Alex Christoforou

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit strategy has been such a monumental failure that even Brussels negotiators are now pushing for the UK to simply leave the union, in what has becoming a British debacle, and a thorn in the Conservative Party’s side.

Many media pundits and analysts are now asking if the latest impasse in Brexit talks means that we are indeed seeing the last days of Theresa May?

While much of the mess the Conservative Party finds themselves in because of Brexit is squarely Theresa May’s fault, much of the damage done by May’s inability to close the deal on Brexit will not go away, even if she does.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s continued failure to obtain her soft Brexit dream, placing herself (and her Conservative Party) in such an embarrassing position, that European Union negotiators, tired of never ending talks, are eager to see Britain go away, in what will be an inevitable hard Brexit.

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“Are these the last days of Theresa May?”, authored by Stephen Bush via The New Statesman:


Are these the last days of Theresa May? This morning’s papers are full of stories of plots and ultimatums to the Prime Minister unless she changes her Brexit strategy, whether from her Scottish MPs over any extension of the transition period due to concerns over fisheries policy, from her Brexiteer MPs over the backstop or from her Cabinet over practically everything.

All this before the Budget next Monday, when Philip Hammond is going to have to find some way to pay for the extra cash for the NHS and Universal Credit all while keeping to May’s pledge that debt will continue to fall as a share of GDP. So added to all May’s Brexit woes, a row over tax rises could be coming down the track.

Of course, the PM’s position has been perilous for a very long time – in fact, when you remember that her period of hegemony ran from July 2016 to June 2017, she’s actually been under threat for more of her premiership than she hasn’t. But just because you roll heads 36 times in a row doesn’t mean your chances of rolling tails aren’t 50/50 on roll 37, and May’s luck could well be running out.

But while May shares a good size of the blame for the mess that the Conservative Party are in, it’s not all her fault by any means and none of those problems will go away if May is replaced or changes tack to win over her internal opponents in the European Research Group.

Ireland has a veto over the end state and only an indefinite and legally binding backstop for the island of Ireland will do if any deal is to be signed off. It’s true to say that no deal also means a hard border on the island of Ireland, but it’s also true that it will always been in the political interests of whoever is in office in Ireland for a hard border to be imposed as a result of no deal rather than for the Irish government to acquiesce in the creation of one through a EU-UK treaty.

The DUP can bring the Conservative government to an early end so they, too, have a de facto veto over any deal that creates barriers between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. But the only UK-wide solution – for the backstop to encompass the whole of the United Kingdom – is nothing doing with pro-Brexit Conservative MPs who don’t want an indefinite backstop. It’s also politically tricky with many EU member states, who don’t want the default outcome of the talks to be a UK-wide backstop, which many regard as a threat to the sanctity of single market. (The only reason why it is acceptable on the Irish border is because Ireland is still a member state and because the Irish border was both the location and the cause of political violence within living memory.)

Added to that, the Conservative parliamentary party seems to be undergoing a similar psychological journey to the one that Steve van Riel described during the 2015 Labour leadership election: that groups of any kind tend to reach a more extreme position the longer an issue is debated. Brexiteers who spent 20 years saying they wanted a Norway style deal now talk of Norway as a betrayal. Leavers who cheerily talked about making Northern Ireland into its own customs area before Brexit now talk of the backstop as a constitutional betrayal. And Conservative Remainers who only reluctantly backed an In vote to avoid the political upheaval of negotiating Brexit, or the loss of David Cameron, now call for a referendum re-run and privately flirt with the idea of a new party.

Some of that is May’s fault, yes. But none of it is going to go away if she does and all of it makes the prospect of reaching a Brexit deal considerably less likely.

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Saudi Crown Prince Spoke To Khashoggi By Phone Moments Before He Was Killed: Report

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community.

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Via Zerohedge


In the latest bombshell report involving the Khashoggi murder, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly spoke on the phone with journalist Jamal Khashoggi moments before he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Safak disclosed the new alleged details of the case in a report on Sunday, contradicting claims by Saudi authorities that Prince Mohammed played no part in Khashoggi’s murder.

“Khashoggi was detained by the Saudi team inside the consulate building. Then Prince Mohammed contacted Khashoggi by phone and tried to convince him to return to Riyadh,” the report said.

“Khashoggi refused Prince Mohammed’s offer out of fear he would be arrested and killed if he returned. The assassination team then killed Khashoggi after the conversation ended,” it added.

While the report is so far unconfirmed, the New Arab reports that so far Turkish pro-government media have been receiving a steady stream of leaks many of which turned out to be accurate, including pictures of the hit team as they entered Turkey and reports of audio recordings of the murder said to be in the possession of Turkish authorities.

Meanwhile, the Saudi version of events has been changing significantly over the past two weeks with authorities conceded Saturday that Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and a Riyadh critic, was killed inside the kingdom’s Istanbul diplomatic compound following a “brawl”. The admission came after a fortnight of denials with the insistence that the journalist left the consulate alive, starting on October 5, when Crown Prince MBS told Bloomberg that Khashoggi was not inside the consulate and “we are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises”.

On Saturday, the kingdom announced it had fired five top officials and arrested 18 others in an investigation into the killing – a move that has widely been viewed as an attempt to cover up the crown prince’s role in the murder.

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community, and has left the U.S. and other allies struggling for a response on Sunday. As Bloomberg reports, France demanded more information, Germany put arms sales to Riyadh on hold and the Trump administration stressed the vital importance of the kingdom and its economy to the U.S.

In Sunday radio and TV interviews, Dominic Raab, the U.K. politician in charge of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union, described the latest Saudi account as not credible; French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for “the truth’’; and Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his government would approve no arms sales so long as the investigation was ongoing.

Earlier on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir acknowledged a cover-up attempt. The dramatic reversal, after Saudi officials had previously said the columnist left the building alive, has only complicated the issue for allies.

Saudi Arabia’s al-Jubeir told Fox News on Sunday that the journalist’s death was an “aberration.”

“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to cover up,” he said, promising that “those responsible will be punished for it.”

More importantly, he said that Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the events, although if the Turkish report is confirmed, it will be yet another major flaw with the official narrative.

Several senior members of US President Donald Trump’s Republican Party said they believed Prince Mohammed was linked to the killing, and one called for a “collective” Western response if a link is proved. In an interview with The Washington Post, President Trump, too, said the Saudi narrative had been marked by “deception and lies.’’ Yet he also defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “strong person,’’ and said there was no proof of his involvement in Khashoggi’s death. Some members of Congress have questioned his willingness to exonerate the prince.

“Obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies,” Trump said on the shifting accounts offered by Riyadh.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to disclose details about the case at a meeting of his AK Party’s parliamentary faction on Tuesday, Haberturk newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, as Western firms and high-ranked officials scramble to avoid any Saudi involvement, Russia is more than happy to step in and fill the power vacuum void left by the US. As a result, Russian businesses are flocking to attend the investment forum in Saudi Arabia, as Western counterparts pull out.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has had considerable success boosting Moscow’s influence in the Middle East at U.S. expense, by standing by regimes that fall afoul of the West, including in Syria and Iran. Last week Putin signed a strategic and partnership agreement with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, backed by $25 billion in loans to build nuclear reactors. Until El-Sisi came to power, Egypt had been closely allied to the U.S.

Meanwhile, all eyes are fixed squarely on the Crown Prince whose position of power is looking increasingly perilous. Congressional leaders on Sunday dismissed the story proffered earlier by the Saudis, with Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bob Corker of Tennessee saying they believed the crown prince was likely involved in Khashoggi’s death.

Lawmakers said they believe the U.S. must impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia or take other action if the crown prince is shown to have been involved. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. should be formally expelled until a third-party investigation is done. He said the U.S. should call on its allies to do the same.

“Unless the Saudi kingdom understands that civilized countries around the world are going to reject this conduct and make sure that they pay a price for it, they’ll continue doing it,”’ Durbin said.

The obvious question is what happens and how the Saudi royal family will respond if it is pushed too far, and whether the worst case scenario, a sharp cut in oil exports, could be on the table if MBS feels like he has little to lose from escalating the situation beyond a point of no return.

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The Biggest Winners In The Mediterranean Energy War

Energy companies are flocking to the Mediterranean after oil and gas discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt.

The Duran

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Authored by Vanand Meliksetian via Oilprice.com:


Former Vice-President of the United States Dick Cheney once said: “the good lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected states… Occasionally we have to operate in places where, all considered, one would not normally choose to go. But we go where the business is.” Europe is surrounded by states with abundant energy resources, but supply from these countries is not always as reliable. Russia, for example, is regularly accused of using energy as a weapon. However, major discoveries of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean could mitigate dependence on Russian gas.

The discovery of a gas field named Tamar near the coast of Israel in 2009 set off a wave of investments in the energy sector. After 9 years, companies are flocking to the region after other discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt. Ever larger finds in the Mediterranean Sea’s Levant Basin such as the Leviathan gas field in 2010 and Zohr in 2015, have the potential to transform the strategic importance of the region.

Turkey’s energy hub ambitions

Few states in the world are geographically so well positioned as Turkey. The country controls Russia’s only warm water port in the Black Sea and serves as a bridge between east and west. Therefore, during the Cold War Ankara was an indispensable member of NATO. More recently, Turkey has the ambition to become an energy hub for Middle Eastern and Caspian energy. Ankara has had mixed successes in attracting investors and maintaining political stability.

After Israel’s significant discoveries, a U.S. backed initiative presented Turkey as an energy hub. Although a land pipeline is the cheapest option to transport gas from the Mediterranean to Europe, political developments have stalled construction. President Erdogan’s escalating public denunciations of Israel have made Jerusalem look for other options. Furthermore, relations with Europe have also been damaged which would be dependent on Turkey as a transit country.

Egypt as the regional gas hub

Egypt’s has the third largest gas reserves in Africa. Therefore, its export-oriented LNG industry came on-stream in 2004 but was shut mid-2013 due to a lack of resources. The growth of the domestic market demanded ever larger volumes, which went at the expense of exports. Instead, Egypt started importing LNG. However, the discovery of the massive Zohr gas field, the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean, has turned around the situation. Egypt imported its last shipment of LNG in September 2018.

Although relations between Egypt and Israel are far from normal, privately held companies have been able to strike a deal. Starting from the first quarter of 2019, in 10 years 64 bcm worth $10 billion will be delivered. The agreement has stirred controversy in Egypt, which until recently was exporting to Israel. However, with this deal, Cairo comes closer in becoming an energy hub.

The recent signing of another agreement, this time with Nicosia to develop a subsea pipeline from Cyprus’ Aphrodite gas field, has been another important step. Cypriot gas will be pumped 400 miles (645 kilometers) to the south to Egypt’s LNG facilities. Difficult relations with Nicosia’s northern neighbors make a pipeline to the north highly unlikely.

Cairo has been able to act pragmatically concerning its relations with its neighbors such as Israel while taking advantage of the limited amount of options for exporting gas. The obvious winner in this context has been Egypt and its LNG industry. Its chances of becoming the regional energy hub instead of Turkey have significantly increased.

Turkey’s hope for luck

All littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean struck ‘gold’ in the shape of natural gas except for Turkey. Ankara strongly opposes the exploitation of the gas resources in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus without a sharing agreement with Northern Cyprus’ Turkish inhabitants. The Turkish Navy prevented ships from Italy’s Eni from performing exploratory drilling off the coast of the Republic of Cyprus.

In search of its own luck, Ankara has set up a project to start looking for gas in the EEZ of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Turkey. Kudret Özersay, TRNC deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, proclaimed the desire to turn the TRNC into an energy and electricity hub. However, it seems unlikely that investors will be willing to participate due to political and legal reasons.

The legal situation of the TRNC is an impediment to any major decision involving a longtime commitment worth billions. From an international point of view, the region is de jure part of the Republic of Cyprus, despite holding no control over the region. The TRNC holds no seat in the WTO.

Large investments require solid legal and political support for companies to earn back their investments. The current economic situation of Turkey makes it dependent on foreign money. However, stringent due diligence rules could impede some international banks in lending the necessary funds.

The Eastern Mediterranean Sea basin promises great rewards, but the risks are also high. With Turkey potentially being the only country that doesn’t profit from the gas bonanza, Ankara has acted aggressively to get what it regards as its fair share. However, it faces a united front from the other littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Turkey will be able to profit in the same way as Cyprus, Egypt or Israel.

By Vanand Meliksetian for Oilprice.com

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