By Tony Attwood
Vangelis Marinakis, owner of Greek champions Olympiakos Piraeus, has been banned from football. He has been reporting to police every 15 days on strict bail terms and banned from football after he was released on bail of 200,000 euros.
That’s not news but this is:
Marinakis is accused of being involved in, and directing, a criminal organisation, aiding and abetting blackmailing, aiding and abetting extortion, and aiding and abetting bribery and fraud.
Quite a lot, all things considered.
After all that he was ordered to leave Olympiakos as president but was able to retain ownership of the company that runs the club. He went on to say, “I want to assure the supporters of Olympiakos that today’s decision has no impact on our team. I remain the major shareholder and guarantor of the future of our Olympiakos.”
Runners-up Panathinaikos and third-placed PAOK Salonika prepared complaints to Uefa saying that Olympiakos should not be allowed to compete in Europe. These complaints were dismissed by Uefa and as we know Olympiakos went on to having the honour of being defeated at home by Arsenal. Giroud did rather well as I recall.
The whole scandal came hot on the heels of the ‘Koriopolis’ match-fixing scandal of 2011, which was revealed a phone tap operated by the Greek National Intelligence Service. This led to accusations that Marinakis and others had been directing a criminal organisation since 2011 with the aim of “absolute control of Greek football’s fate by the methods of blackmailing and fraud”.
But such people have friends in high places as we always know, and this time it was Gianni Infantino (now head of Fifa) who said that Olympiakos would be allowed to stay in the Champions League.
Uefa was asked whether Infantino had removed his deputy, Theodore Theodoridis, from any discussions or decisions about the handling of the Olympiakos case, which he was expected to do because Theodoridis’s father, Savvas, was vice-president of Olympiakos. Apparently he did not.
Infantino then said, “I think our bodies have shown they are very firm when it comes to match-fixing; if there is any evidence, they will take this into account. There is a clear rule as well which automatically excludes a club involved in match-fixing.”
The Court of Arbitration for Sport then rejected Panathinaikos’ appeal against Uefa’s decision to allow Olympiakos to play in Europe. The following day the Greek Magistrature took up the case against Olympiakos president Marinakis of match fixing ordering the owner to hand in 200,000 euros bail, appear at a police station twice a month and banned him from football pending the outcome of the case.
Now all this is interesting because it represented a change of approach by Infantino because when Fenerbahce faced match-fixing charges, as reported at the time on Untold, Uefa wrote to the Turkish Federation to warn them about Fenerbahce before club officials were convicted and told the Turkish Federation to remove the club from their Champions League list.
But Uefa, with Infantino taking a close interest in the affair, and with Infantino’s deputy closely allied to Olympiakos, didn’t act in the same way with Olympiakos. Instead they argued that Fenerbahce’s president had been charged by Turkish authorities but claim the Greek proceedings have not reached that point. Infantino then argued that the CAS ruling on Olympiakos confirmed Uefa’s decision. But with his mind on the issue of becoming Fifa boss Infantino made a mistake, because he claimed that before the CAS (supposedly totally independent of Fifa) actually issued their ruling.
CAS eventually confirmed that lawyers acting for Uefa had argued in the CAS hearing that CAS should throw out the case against Olympiako because Panathinaikos did not have the right to bring a case even though, if Olympiakos were guilty of match fixing, that should have meant their being thrown out of Europe and Panathinaikos put in their place.
It is an interesting new argument because if one club cannot report another for match fixing then it seems very unlikely any match fixing case will ever reach Uefa or the Court of Arbitration in Sport.
After this came the long case of the cancellation of the Greek Cup by the government because of civil unrest. Infantino again moved in to pay back the favours that allowed him to become the top dog in Fifa, and Olympiakos can still, it seems, do what it likes as a result.
So the latest twist is that that Vangelis Marinakis, the man involved in all the above with his mate Infantino, wants to buy Nottingham Forest, and now we find lurking in the background offering “guidance” on correct procedure (if any such thing is needed) is… Infantino.
Now Nottingham Forest is currently owned by Fawaz al-Hasawi of Kuwait who has loaned £67m to Nottingham Forest. He has been involved in a round of manager appointment and sacking, banning journalists and seeing his club under a transfer embargo last season because of a loss of £24m in 2013/14 and £21.5m in 2014/15 – which is against Championship rules. (Incidentally the rules that will make for an interesting time if Leicester return to the Championship).
Hasawi has been talking to Mr Marinakis for weeks, it seems, even though Marinakis is still banned from involvement in any football administration in Greece, is subject of a major criminal prosecution in which he is accused of seeking to control Greek football by criminal means, and is accused of various crimes including bribery and blackmail.
But seemingly that makes him ok to own an English football club even though he is still charged with such trivial matters as being involved in blowing up a bakery owned by a referee. Marinakis denies any wrongdoing. (He really must be wondering why everyone is out to get him).
To summarise this: Marinakis is on bail to the tune of €200,000 and has been banned from taking an active role in Olympiakos or Greek football, pending the conclusion of the very significant criminal case, and yet there is nothing to stop him taking control of an English league club.
In English football there is a thing called the owners’ and directors’ test. It took years and years of lobbying to get the Football League to accept that there was even a reason to decide who might or might not be a fit and proper person to own 30% or more of a league club or be a director of a league club. People who have been convicted of a criminal offence involving dishonesty or who have been banned from involvement in sports administration by a governing or professional body are told not to apply.
But the notion of buying a Championship club, getting it into the Premier League (even for just one season) and then taking all the money that is there and running away with it (or alternatively taking match fixing in the PL to a new and previously unseen level) is quite a tempting one.
The trouble is the owners’ and directors’ test was drawn up by a bunch of amateur enthusiasts (as is so often the case in football). When Massimo Cellino took over Leeds in 2014 it was tested to the full, and found woefully wanting. The Football League argued that Cellino was barred due to his conviction in Italy for tax evasion. His lawyers argued that Cellino’s criminal offence might not have involved in your actual “dishonesty” but might have evaded taxes “honestly” (How many exclamation marks would you like at the end of that sentence?)
Now you might have thought that immediately, at once, before the ink was dry and without drawing another breath, the Football League would have
a) thrown out the bunch of idiots who drew up the original fit and proper person test and told them to go and do GCSE Law and Order, and then
b) brought in a new team and told them to “get it right this time.”
But no. They did nothing. (May I say that again? THEY DID NOTHING!!!)
A few months later written reasons for the conviction in Italy were released and found that Cellino had been dishonest. So he was barred by the League. However he was by then the owner of Leeds and was able to have his people within Leeds run the club in his way during his banning order. After the conviction was spent, he was back at Leeds.
(And any Forest fans who might think that we are simply trying to stop them rising up the league might like to note that Leeds United was ordered by an employment court to pay £290000 to former employee Lucy Ward for wrongful dismissal a week or two back. That is not paid by the owner, but by the club. It’s just an everyday situation at Leeds.)
So because Marinakis has not been convicted of a criminal offence, but has “only” be accused of five incredibly serious offences, he is not, technically, banned from involvement in Greek football by the Hellenic Football Federation or other governing body, or by a professional body. He is only banned as a bail condition, so he can take over Nottingham Forest. Then if he is banned and the League ban him in retrospect he will by then have his people running Forest.
But this is football. When has it ever been done properly?
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