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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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Beijing Threatens “Severe” Retaliation Against Canada If Huawei CFO Is Not Released

China’s warning marks an escalation in Beijing’s rhetoric as investors worry that the arrest could cause the shaky trade detente between the US and China to devolve into acrimony.

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Via Zerohedge


Canada’s extraordinary arrest one week ago of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei founder and billionaire executive Ren Zhengfei, and its decision to charge her with “multiple” counts of fraud – a preamble to her likely extradition to the US to face charges of knowingly violating US and EU sanctions on Iran – has elicited widespread anger in Beijing, which declared Meng’s detention a “violation of human rights” during a bail hearing for the jailed executive on Friday.

That anger has apparently only intensified after the hearing adjourned without a decision (it will resume on Monday, allowing Meng’s defense team to argue for why she should be released on bail, contrary to the wishes of government attorneys who are prosecuting the case).

And with Canada insisting that it will prosecute Meng to the full extent of the law over allegations that she mislead banks about the true relationship of a Huawei subsidiary called Skycom, angry Chinese officials have decided to issue an ultimatum directly to the Canadian ambassador, who was summoned to a meeting in Beijing on Saturday and told in no uncertain terms that Canada will face “severe consequences” if Meng isn’t released, according to the Wall Street Journal.

China’s foreign ministry publicized the warning in a statement (though Canadian officials have yet to comment):

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned Canada’s ambassador to Beijing, John McCallum, on Saturday to deliver the warning, according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The statement doesn’t mention the name of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, though it refers to a Huawei “principal” taken into custody at U.S. request while changing planes in Vancouver, as was Ms. Meng. The statement accuses Canada of “severely violating the legal, legitimate rights of a Chinese citizen” and demands the person’s release.

“Otherwise there will be severe consequences, and Canada must bear the full responsibility,” said the statement, which was posted online late Saturday.

Phone calls to the Canadian Embassy rang unanswered while the Canadian government’s global affairs media office didn’t immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The warning marks an escalation in Beijing’s rhetoric as investors worry that the arrest could cause the shaky trade detente between the US and China to devolve into acrimony. A federal judge issued a warrant for Meng’s arrest back in August. Though after she was made aware of the warrant, Meng avoided travel to the US. She was arrested in Vancouver last Saturday while traveling to Mexico.

Aside from breaking off trade talks, some are worried that Beijing could seek to retaliate in kind by arresting a notable US executive. While the threats of Chinese bureaucrats might not amount to much in the eyes of US prosecutors, threatening a US executive with long-term detention in a Chinese “reeducation camp” just might.

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The trials of Julian Assange

Eresh Omar Jamal interviews Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi in relation to the situation of Julian Assange.

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Authored by Eresh Omar Jamal for The Daily Star (Bangladesh):


Stefania Maurizi is an investigative journalist working for the Italian daily La Repubblica. She has worked on all WikiLeaks releases of secret documents and partnered with Glenn Greenwald to reveal the Snowden Files about Italy. She has authored two books—Dossier WikiLeaks: Segreti Italiani and Una Bomba, Dieci Storie. In an exclusive interview with Eresh Omar Jamal of The Daily Star, Maurizi talks about the continued arbitrary detention of Julian Assange, why powerful governments see WikiLeaks as an existential threat, and the implications for global press freedom if Assange is prosecuted for publishing secret government documents.

You recently had the chance to visit Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. When was this and can you describe the state he is in?

I was able to visit him on November 19, after 8 months of failed attempts, because last March the Ecuadorian authorities cut off all his social and professional contacts, with the exception of his lawyers, and in the preceding 8 months, I had asked for permission to visit him nine times without success—the Ecuadorian authorities didn’t reply at all to my requests.

When I was finally granted permission to visit the WikiLeaks founder at the Ecuadorian embassy in London last November, I was literally shocked to see the huge impact his isolation has had on his health. Because I have worked as a media partner with him and his organisation, WikiLeaks, for the last nine years, I have met him many times and can tell when there are any changes in his body and mind. I wondered how his mind could keep working; but after talking to him in the embassy for two hours, I have no doubt that his mind is working fine. I still wonder how that’s possible after six and a half years of detention without even one hour of being outdoors. I would have had a physical and mental breakdown after just 6 months, not after 6 years.

Detention and isolation are killing him slowly, and no one is doing anything to stop it. The media reports, the commentators comment, but at the end of the day, he is still there; having spent the last six and a half years confined to a tiny building with no access to sunlight or to proper medical treatment. And this is happening in London, in the heart of Europe. He is not sitting in an embassy in Pyongyang. It is truly tragic and completely unacceptable. And I’m simply appalled at the way the UK authorities have contributed to his arbitrary detention, and have opposed any solution to this intractable legal and diplomatic quagmire.

Having bravely defended Assange for years, the Ecuadorian government in late March cut off almost all his communications with the outside world. What prompted this turnabout and what is its purpose?

Politics has completely changed in Ecuador, and more in general, in Latin America, since 2012, when Ecuador granted Julian Assange asylum. I have never had any interviews with the current Ecuadorian President, Mr Lenin Moreno, but based on his public declarations, it’s rather obvious to me that he does not approve of what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks do.

With all his problems, Rafael Correa (former president of Ecuador) protected Assange from the very beginning, whereas Lenin Moreno considers him a liability. Moreno is under pressure from the right-wing politicians in Ecuador, and also from very powerful governments, like the US and UK governments, who will leave no stones unturned to jail Assange and destroy WikiLeaks. I am not sure how long Lenin Moreno will hold out against this immense pressure, provided that he wants to hold out at all.

Assange was vindicated not so long ago as to why he cannot leave the embassy when the US Department of Justice “accidentally” revealed in November that the founder of WikiLeaks had been secretly charged in the US. What do you think those charges are for?

It’s hard to say unless the charges get declassified and I really appreciate how the US organisation, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, is fighting before the court in the Eastern District of Virginia, US, to have the charges declassified.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the US authorities have always wanted to charge him for WikiLeaks’ publications. They have wanted to do so from the very beginning, since 2010, when WikiLeaks released its bombshell publications like the US diplomatic cables.

But the US authorities have been unable to do so due to the fact that WikiLeaks’ publication activities enjoy constitutional protection thanks to the First Amendment. So it will be very interesting to see how they will get around this constitutional protection in order to be able to charge him and other WikiLeaks journalists and put them all in jail.

Why have some of the most powerful governments and intelligence agencies invested so much resources to attack Assange and WikiLeaks?

You have to realise what it meant for the US national security complex to witness the publication of 76,000 secret documents about the war in Afghanistan, and then another 390,000 secret reports about the war in Iraq; followed by 251,287 US diplomatic cables and 779 secret files on the Guantanamo detainees; and to watch WikiLeaks save Edward Snowden, while the US was trying everything it could do, to show the world that there is no way of exposing the NSA’s secrets and keep your head attached to your neck having done so.

You have to realise what this means in an environment like that of the US, where even the most brilliant national security reporters didn’t dare to publish the name of the head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center, Michael D’Andrea, even though his name and the abuses committed by his centre were open secrets within their inner circles. Although the New York Times finally did, later on. But this was and still is the reality in the US, and even though it may not be as bad in the UK, it’s still quite bad. Look at what happened with the arrest of Glenn Greenwald’s husband, David Miranda, at the Heathrow Airport during the publication of the Snowden Files. Look at what happened with The Guardian being forced to destroy its hard drives during the publication of those files.

There are different levels of power in our societies and generally in our western democracies, criticism against the low, medium and high levels of power via journalistic activities is tolerated. Journalists may get hit with libel cases, have troubles with their careers; however, exposing those levels is permitted. The problem is when journalists and media organisations touch the highest levels, the levels where states and intelligence agencies operate.

WikiLeaks is a media organisation that has published secret documents about these entities for years, and Julian Assange and his staff have done this consistently, not occasionally like all the other media organisations do. You can imagine the anger these powerful entities have towards WikiLeaks—they perceive WikiLeaks as an existential threat and they want to set an example that says, “Don’t you dare expose our secrets and crimes, because if you do, we will smash you.”

If Assange is prosecuted, what impact might it have on other publishers and journalists and on press freedom globally?

It will have a huge impact and that is why organisations like the American Civil Liberties Union are speaking out. Never before in the US has an editor and media organisation ended up in jail for publishing information in the public interest. If Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks’ staff end up in jail, it will be the first time in US history and will set a devastating precedent for attack on press freedom in the US, but actually, not only in the US. Because if a country like the US, in which the activities of the press enjoy constitutional protection, treats journalists this way, you can imagine how other countries where the press doesn’t enjoy such strong protection will react. It will send a clear message to them: “Your hands are free.”

At the end of the day, I think there are two sides to this Assange and WikiLeaks saga: the US-UK national security complex, but more in general, I would say, the people within the national security complex, who want to destroy Julian Assange and WikiLeaks to send a clear message to journalists: “Don’t mess with us if you don’t want your lives to be destroyed.” While on the other side, there are the freedom of the press guys, meaning journalists like me, who want to demonstrate the exact opposite: that we can expose power at the highest levels, we can expose the darkest corners of governments and come out alive and well. And actually, we must do this, because real power is invisible and hides in the darkest corners.

Eresh Omar Jamal is a journalist for The Daily Star (Bangladesh). You can find him on Twitter: @EreshOmarJamal and Stefania Maurizi: @SMaurizi

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Diplomacy a Waste of Time with Washington

Trump’s JCPOA pullout and threatened INF Treaty withdrawal show Washington can never be trusted.

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Authored by Stephen Lendman:


The US is a serial lawbreaker, operating by its own rules, no others.

Time and again, it flagrantly breaches international treaties, Security Council resolutions, and other rule of law principles, including its own Constitution.

Diplomacy with Republicans and undemocratic Dems is an exercise in futility.

Trump’s JCPOA pullout and threatened INF Treaty withdrawal show Washington can never be trusted.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova’s proposed US outreach to discuss INF Treaty bilateral differences is well intended – despite knowing nothing is accomplished when talks with Washington are held, so why bother.

It’s just a matter of time before the US breaches another promise. They’re hollow when made. Kremlin good intentions aren’t enough to overcome US duplicity and implacable hostility toward Russia.

“We are ready to continue the dialogue in appropriate formats on the entire range of problems related to this document on the basis of professionalism and mutual respect, without putting forward unsubstantiated accusations and ultimatums. Our proposals are well known and remain on the negotiating table,” said Zakharova, adding:

“We have admitted (US) documents for further consideration. This text again includes accusations in the form of unfounded and unsubstantiated information about Russia’s alleged violations of this deal.

Comments to Washington like the above and similar remarks are like talking to a wall. The US demands all countries bend to its will, offering nothing in return but betrayal – especially in dealings with Russia, China, Iran, and other sovereign independent governments it seeks to replace with pro-Western puppet ones.

Not a shred of evidence suggests Russia violated its INF Treaty obligations. The accusation is baseless like all others against the Kremlin.

“No one has officially or by any other means handed over to Russia any files or facts, confirming that Russia breaches or does not comply with this deal,” Zakharova stressed, adding:

“We again confirm our consistent position that the INF Treaty is one of the key pillars of strategic stability and international security.”

It’s why the Trump regime intends abolishing it by pulling out. Strategic stability and international security defeat its agenda. Endless wars and chaos serve it.

The US, UK, France, Israel, and their imperial partners get away with repeated international law breaches because the EU, UN, and rest of the world community lack backbone enough to challenge them.

It’s how it is no matter how egregious their actions, notably their endless wars of aggression, supporting the world’s worst tinpot pot despots, and failing to back the rights of persecuted Palestinians and other long-suffering people.

The only language Republicans and Dems understand is toughness. Putin pretends a Russian/US partnership exists to his discredit – a show of weakness, not strength and responsible leadership.

In response to the Trump regime’s intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty, he said Russia will “react accordingly” – precisely what, he didn’t say.

A few suggestions, Mr. President.

  • Recall your ambassador to Washington. Expel the Trump regime’s envoy from Moscow and other key embassy personnel.
  • Arrest US spies in Russia you long ago identified. Imprison them until the US releases all Russian political prisoners. Agree to swap US detainees for all of them, no exceptions.
  • Install enough S-400 air defense systems to cover all Syrian airspace. Warn Washington, Britain, France and Israel that their aircraft, missiles and other aerial activities in its airspace will be destroyed in flight unless permission from Damascus is gotten – clearly not forthcoming.
  • Publicly and repeatedly accuse the above countries of supporting the scourge of ISIS and likeminded terrorists they pretend to oppose.
  • Warn them in no uncertain terms that their aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic no longer will be tolerated. Tell them the same goes if they dare attack Iran.
  • Stop pretending Mohammad bin Salman didn’t order Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, along with ignoring the kingdom’s horrendous human rights abuses domestically and abroad – including support for ISIS and other terrorists.
  • Put observance of rule of law principles and honor above dirty business as usual with the kingdom and other despotic regimes for profits.
  • Do the right things at all times and damn the short-term consequences – including toughness on Washington, the UK, Israel, and their imperial partners in high crimes of war and against humanity.

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: stephenlendman.org (Home – Stephen Lendman). Contact at [email protected].

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

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