Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

Opinion

Greek corruption undermining recovery

  • Corruption in sport goes back to ancient Greece (Photo: YoungJ523)

Celebrated riot dog Loukanikos has died earlier this month, leaving many Greeks sad in a story that made headlines across the world.

Famous for his role during the height of the eurozone crisis, where he faced down riot police and tear gas, he became a symbol of the country’s fight against austerity before retiring from the protest racket in 2012.

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As Greek public finances inch further and further away from ‘junk status’, with most analysts expecting it to emerge from recession this year before expanding by 2.9 percent in 2015, mass street protests are now a thing of the past.

But as a comfortable lull in public vigilance sets in, corruption in Greece is thriving unhindered.

According to Transparency International's reports, Greece is trailing the corruption heap in Europe, with the EU commission saying the phenomenon has reached "breathtaking proportions".

Apart from a few high profile exceptions, such as a case involving German arms firms that paid bribes to Greek officials, the government seems unwilling or unable to change course. Moreover, on more than one occasion, such inaction has actually fostered a culture of corruption.

The latest victim to fall prey to this scourge is football.

Two leading prosecutors looking into matters of football corruption were removed from their respective cases on 3 October without explanation.

The newly-appointed head of the first instance court prosecutor’s office, Ilias Zagoraios, dismissed Haris Lakafosis, who was investigating a case involving forged tax documents filed by more than 20 football clubs which are accused of embezzling €28 million and Aristidis Koreas, the head prosecutor in the Koriopolis affair, the biggest match fixing scandal ever to engulf Greek football.

The latter scandal, involving more than 70 suspects, was in its final stages, as Koreas was on the verge of demanding depositions from 11 key soccer figures. Both prosecutors denied having requested a reassignment, leaving the long-protracted cases in suspension.

This is not just another bad apple scenario, prompted by lax enforcement and greedy executives. It’s a problem with deep roots in Greek society, enhanced by the rather toned-down attitude the media has in covering corruption cases.

As a result, both cases have been shunned by most outlets, leaving Greeks as well as the international opinion unaware of the details surrounding the scandals.

An excellent series of articles written by Michael Nevradakis in TruthOut paint a dismal picture of the country’s media landscape, marred by clientelism and government-led censorship.

The Koriopolis affair involves allegations that major club presidents, including Evangelos Marinakis, the boss of Greece’s biggest team, Olympiakos, top referees and League officials worked together to secure favourable results by resorting to threats, violence, and bribes.

When the scandal broke, Marinakis was also president of the Greek Super League and vice-president of the Hellenic Football Federation (HFF), increasing the gravity of the allegations aired in this case.

This is not the first time Marinakis has been accused of foul play on Greece’s football fields. Back in May 2013, referee Thansis Yiachos, who was the subject of much criticism after he appeared to favour Olympiacos during a match against Asteras Tripolis, admitted that Marinakis had paid him a visit during half time, breaking HFF rules.

Olympiacos won the match 3-1 and Marinakis walked away after he claimed his stop-in was a harmless good luck gesture.

The other case also involves the HFF, which saw its offices ransacked by prosecutors searching for evidence to prove charges of embezzlement, irregularities in player transfers and vote rigging in local football elections in several cities.

Its president, Giorgos Sarris, was unimpressed by the allegations, casually dismissing the case as “yet another government intervention in national association matters”. This statement should be taken with a pinch of salt, as this is not the first time the HFF was involved in murky corruption scandals. A Super League referee has already given his evidence stating HFF officials approached him in the past with demands to fix a match.

The two high profile cases, albeit different in substance, are related as they point to the shabby state of Greek football both on and off the field.

Making matters worse, on 14 September, during a game in the Greek third division, a football fan was beaten and fatally injured after a group of youths pommelled him with brass knuckles.

Over the past decade, in spite of multiple laws passed meant to discourage hooliganism, such violent events have become dangerously common. In addition to rampant corruption, Molotov cocktails, firebombs, arranged fights between hooligans and murders of fans have become almost synonymous with Greek football.

Let’s not forget that the first match fixing scandals were reported some 2,800 years ago, in Classical Greece. Athletes and coaches caught cheating were forced to erect statues of gods in front of the ancient Olympics venue in order to expiate their sins. But unlike those times of yore, contemporary Greek society is increasingly complacent.

In a country where the media is often silent and persecuted, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the symbol of resistance has been a dog.

The writer is a Geneva-based economist.

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