PAOK owner who stormed pitch with gun ordered to testify

Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian
PAOK owner who stormed pitch with gun ordered to testify
PAOK owner who stormed pitch with gun ordered to testify

The Russian oligarch and football club proprietor who stunned spectators when he stormed on to the pitch carrying a gun during a match in Greece has been ordered to appear to before a public prosecutor on Friday after criminal charges were brought against him.

Ivan Savvidis attempted to confront the referee after a goal by his PAOK Salonika team was disallowed in the 89th minute of the Superleague match against AEK Athens on Sunday. The game was subsequently abandoned.

The 59-year-old former member of the Russian duma, who reputedly has close ties to Vladimir Putin and is one of Greece’s most powerful businessmen, is already facing disciplinary action from football authorities over the incident.

Savvidis is expected to be fined at least €50,000 (£44,000) and prohibited from entering stadiums for the next three to five years. PAOK, who had been tipped to win the Superleague, could face relegation.

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“He has not been seen since the incident and, under Greek law, it is no longer in our jurisdiction to arrest him,” police spokesman Theodoros Chronopoulos said. “The matter is now in the hands of justice.”

After the criminal charges were announced, the tycoon’s son wrote in English on Instagram: “We are off to Russia - one small message to all our enemies before I leave.”

The Panhellenic Federation of Police expressed dismay that Savvidis had not been arrested and asked if he had “privileged protection”.

In an effort to distance itself from the tycoon, whose controversial business portfolio has grown considerably under Athens’ leftist-led Syriza party administration, the government announced it would take tough retaliatory measures including the indefinite suspension of the Superleague.

Speaking from the US, the main opposition leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, accused the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, of being “in bed” with Savvidis, helping him expand his business empire in return for favourable overage from the media outlets that were part of it.

The tycoon, who was made an honorary citizen of Greece in 2013, bought shares in Mega channel TV and three prominent newspapers last year including the Ethnos titles. His other assets include the strategic port of Thessaloniki, in the country’s north, and tobacco companies.

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Given the country’s strategic importance on Europe’s eastern flank, and evidence of growing Russian influence in the Balkans, the oligarch’s ever-extending reach has been cause for alarm among western diplomats. On his website, where he is pictured being honoured by Putin, Savvidis writes of his “contribution to the social and economic development of Russia”.

On Wednesday, the world soccer federation, Fifa, warned that Greek football was “on the edge of the cliff.” The country’s premier league clubs would be excluded from international competition if the notoriously violence-prone sport was not immediately cleaned up, said Hubert Hubel, the Austrian who heads a Fifa committee set up to monitor Greek soccer and is on a visit to the country. “This behaviour has pushed us to come here to make recommendations. The situation is very serious. The violence has to stop for the games to continue.”

In a statement on PAOK’s website, Savvidis apologised for his behaviour, blaming it on the “widespread negative situation prevailing in Greek football”.

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