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Greece threatened with expulsion from international football competitions

This is the end result of the SYRIZA-led government’s purported efforts to “clean up” Greek football and “root out corruption,” while defending gun-toting oligarch Ivan Savvidis.

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SYRIZA may finally be achieving “Grexit.” Not the one, of course, that we were laughably led to believe it once supported in its days as a “radical anti-austerity” party, but which it always intended to eschew in the name of “Europe.” Instead, the “Grexit” coming to Greece may be of the football variety.
Following a recent spate of incidents in Greek football, topped off by the owner of PAOK FC Ivan Savvidis storming the football pitch while fully armed following a controversial call, the head of FIFA’s monitoring committee Herbert Huebel has formally recommended to FIFA Greece’s ejection from all international football competitions.
What this means is that Greek club teams as well as Greek national teams would be barred from participating in international competitions such as the qualifiers for the Euro 2020 competition, the UEFA Nations League, the UEFA Champions League, and the UEFA Europa League. Greece’s national men’s football team did not qualify for this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
The only possible saving grace for Greece is that Huebel’s recommendation leaves a period of approximately six weeks for the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) to enforce the measures that have been recommended by FIFA, in order to avert a football “Grexit,” even at the last minute. This is because the recommendations have been passed on to FIFA’s members committee, which is slated to meet in late May or June, instead of to FIFA’s emergency committee, which would issue an immediate decision.
Huebel’s document highlighted various concerns which he used to justify his recommendation for Greece’s expulsion. These include the delays in the issuance of disciplinary decisions regarding Greek football matches, the lack of implementation of FIFA recommendations, and the likelihood that the champion of this season’s Super League will be determined in the courtroom and not on the playing field.
Huebel’s document also makes specific references to PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis storming the football pitch wielding a gun, the postponements of the Greek Super League and Greek Cup imposed by the SYRIZA-led government, and the ejection of PAOK from the European Club Association (ECA) following the aforementioned incident involving Savvidis.
The issuance of these recommendations comes following a meeting he had with the president of EPO Vangelis Grammenos in Austria earlier this week.
The risk of “Grexit” comes after a series of absurd moves on the part of the SYRIZA-led government, which as with every other aspect of society, is proclaiming that it is “rooting out corruption” in Greek football as well. These claims, of course, do not reflect reality, but are great fodder for SYRIZA’s party faithful and the “fans,” blinded by fanaticism, of teams such as PAOK and AEK, whose owners are widely recognized as being very close to the SYRIZA-led government.
Following the PAOK-AEK match and the incident involving an armed, unhinged Ivan Savvidis, the SYRIZA-led Greek government imposed a temporary postponement of league and cup matches, something which has become routine for the current regime. Similar postponements were enacted in 2015, 2016 and 2017, all in the name of “combating violence” in Greek football.
It seems though that for SYRIZA, some violence is not as bad as other violence. Today, a ruling regarding the events of the PAOK-AEK match where Savvidis stormed the football pitch resulted in a three year ban for Ivan Savvidis from entering football stadiums, a monetary fine of €15,000, a fine of €63,000 for PAOK, and the loss of three points in this season’s league table and two points next season.
The fine and loss of three points this season and two points next year is the same exact penalty which was levied against Panathinaikos in 2017 for an incident where a fan tossed a can of beer at the pitch, striking an opposing player.
In other words, in SYRIZA’s Greece, throwing a beer bottle and storming the pitch wielding a gun are met with the same exact penalty. There’s no arrest or jail sentence for Savvidis, nor was PAOK demoted to the Football League, the second category in Greek football, as foreseen by the very same law passed by SYRIZA — with FIFA’s approval — professing to “clean up” football.
Earlier this season, Olympiacos was docked three points for an incident where fans (but not the team owner) stormed the pitch following a home loss — with questionable officiating — against AEK. In other words, some fans coming onto the pitch is the same as a team owner chasing a referee with a weapon. In two other incidents, PAOK fans fought with police and other fans and attempted to storm stadiums in the cities of Ioannina and Tripolis. PAOK was not docked any points in the league table for these incidents.
In last season’s league cup final between PAOK and AEK, “fans” of the two teams rioted both inside and outside the neutral Panthessalian Stadium in the city of Volos, causing major injuries and damage to the facilities. Neither team was docked points for these incidents, by the government that is otherwise “policing” Greek football.
The name of the game though seems to be to strike perennial Greek champion Olympiacos and its owner, Evangelos Marinakis, who has also been embroiled in scandal but was recently acquitted on charges of participating in a criminal organization. Marinakis is viewed by SYRIZA as being close with the opposition New Democracy party, and is viewed by the fans of teams such as PAOK and AEK as being the epitome of all of the ills in Greek football due to the dominance of Olympiacos in the past two decades. SYRIZA has done nothing to bridge this division, and in fact it seems to be actively fanning the flames, counting on support from what it sees as a bloc of voters who oppose Olympiacos and Marinakis.
For fans of teams such as PAOK, based in Thessaloniki, there is a long-standing inferiority complex vis-à-vis the supposed “Athens-centric establishment.” For them, Ivan Savvidis, who “rescued” PAOK from bankruptcy a few seasons ago, is a savior who could do no wrong. We are told he has invested over €100 million in PAOK, that he will build the team a new stadium, that he has “stood up to the establishment.”
Even more ludicrously, we are told that he “saved Thessaloniki’s port from the Turks” (for participating in a consortium of mostly foreign investors, including German and Chinese, which purchased the harbor as part of SYRIZA’s privatization program which it had once pledged to stop) and that he “saved” the SEKAP tobacco industry in northern Greece from Turkish hands. The way Savvidis “saved” SEKAP was by initially purchasing the debt-ridden company, then blackmailing the government with threats to abandon the investment if the company’s debts to the state were not written off, then selling the now debt-free SEKAP to a company owned by the Japanese state.
It’s okay though, for Savvidis can do no wrong in the eyes of his army of supporters, or for the SYRIZA-led government. And returning to the matter at hand, it is clear that FIFA is not impressed. It is an open secret among football fans in Greece that EPO is a PAOK and AEK stronghold, following changes, or according to SYRIZA “catharsis,” imposed by the government last season. The message FIFA seems to be sending to EPO is to clean up their act or for Greek football to pay the ultimate price.
And what would this ultimate price be? The consequences would be disastrous for Greek football and, by extension, the Greek economy, at a time when despite the proclamations of SYRIZA regarding imminent “recovery,” the economy needs all the help it can get. Potential consequences include:

  • The inability of Greek club teams and national teams to participate in any international competitions, including exhibition matches.
  • The inability of Greek footballers to play for club teams outside of Greece.
  • The inability of foreign players to compete with Greek club teams.
  • The loss of massive income from Greek club teams’ participation in European competitions such as the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League, including television revenue, sponsorships, and bonuses tied to team performance.
  • Greece being dropped to zero in the national team and club coefficients used by FIFA and UEFA to determine the relative strength of each country’s national team and club competitions. At the club level, the performance of a country’s club teams improves the country’s overall standing — the better the coefficient, the more teams from that country are permitted to compete in European competition such as the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. At the national team level, the better the coefficient, the higher the national team is ranked, meaning that it will receive theoretically more favorable draws for participation in the World Cup, the Euro cup, the Nations Cup, and the qualifiers for these tournaments. Following a potential Greek suspension, Greece would find itself starting with a coefficient of zero, which would mean the hardest, most challenging possible draws for both Greek club teams and the national team.
  • The loss of ancillary revenues, such as income from foreign teams and their fans visiting Greece for club and national team matches.
  • The total delegitimizing of the Greek football league, which would likely resemble an amateur football league much more than a professional league — one where no foreign players will compete, where revenues will be low, and international interest non-existent.

Of course, with the self-loathing and divide-and-conquer mentality that is so unfortunately prevalent in Greece today, fans who believe their teams have been “wronged,” such as PAOK and AEK, are only too happy to see a “Grexit” from international play, as they view this as being “what Greece deserves” for its “corruption” which, of course, they are not responsible for. Only Olympiacos is, clearly, and only its owner, Evangelos Marinakis.
Such attitudes are bolstered by Greece’s recklessly irresponsible and hideously biased sports journalists, all of whom seem to represent vested team interests and political interests as well, and who have for years created the impression that Greece is a hopeless basket case while touting how “civilized” athletics are in other “serious” countries. The high-level corruption in competitions such as the Olympics and the World Cup, and the more petty day-to-day incidents of biased refereeing or football riots between fans in other countries (even if they take place outside the stadium and not inside of it) are conveniently brushed off.
These outlets know, after all, who their audience is. For online sports portals in particular, it is angry and resentful young men, often unemployed or underemployed, and raised on a diet of being told, day after day, at school and from these very portals, that Greece is a backward banana republic and that other European countries are superior and civilized. These young men are probably also resentful that they were forced into military conscription in Greece. Largely apolitical, these men are nevertheless exposed to political propaganda via the “journalism” provided by these sports portals.
This mentality is epitomized by the following two examples:

  • A recent petition by PAOK fans which circulated online, stating that if PAOK is penalized for the recent incidents which took place in its home stadium, they will burn their military conscription papers and refuse to serve. This, of course, belies the gender and age group of most of the signatories of this “petition.”
  • An online poll that is active today on Sport24.gr — a portal operated by the PAOK-friendly 24 Media which is owned by Dimitris Maris, a former business partner of Ivan Savvidis — where 64 percent of “fans” have thus far voted in support of a Greek football Grexit.

There’s a saying for such people: “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” And in Greek society, where divide-and-conquer is the norm, the government is fanning the flames, using such divisions for its own petty interests and to boost its own favored oligarchs, all in the name of “routing the oligarchs” and “rooting out corruption.” But as is the case the world over, those screaming the loudest about “corruption” are usually the ones who are most blatantly guilty of it.
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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EXPLOSIVE: Michael Cohen sentencing memo exposes serial liar with nothing to offer Mueller (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 38.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the Michael Cohen sentencing memo which paints the picture of a man who was not as close to Trump as he made it out to be…a serial liar and cheat who leveraged his thin connections to the Trump organization for money and fame.

It was Cohen himself who proudly labelled himself as Trump’s “fixer”. The sentencing memo hints at the fact that even Mueller finds no value to Cohen in relation to the ongoing Trump-Russia witch hunt investigation.

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Via Axios

Special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York have each submitted sentencing memos for President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, after Cohen pleaded guilty in two different cases related to his work for Trump and the Trump Organization.

The big picture: The Southern District of New York recommended Cohen serve a range of 51 to 63 months for four crimes — “willful tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress.” Mueller, meanwhile, did not take a position on the length of Cohen’s statement, but said he has made substantial efforts to assist the investigation.

Southern District of New York

Mueller investigation

Michael J. Stern, a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles noted via USA Today

In support of their request that he serve no time in prison, Cohen’s attorneys offered a series of testimonials from friends who described the private Michael Cohen as a “truly caring” man with a “huge heart” who is not only “an upstanding, honorable, salt of the earth man” but also a “selfless caretaker.”

The choirboy portrayed by Cohen’s lawyers stands in sharp opposition to Cohen’s public persona as Trump’s legal bulldog, who once threatened a reporter with: “What I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

Prosecutors focused their sentencing memo on Cohen as Mr. Hyde. Not only did they detail Cohen’s illegal activities, which include millions of dollars of fraud, they also recognized the public damage that stemmed from his political crimes — describing Cohen as “a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy.”

Rebuffing efforts by Cohen’s attorneys to recast him as a good guy who made a few small mistakes, prosecutors cited texts, statements of witnesses, recordings, documents and other evidence that proved Cohen got ahead by employing a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” The prosecutors attributed Cohen’s crimes to “personal greed,” an effort to “increase his power and influence,” and a desire to maintain his “opulent lifestyle.”

Perhaps the most damning reveal in the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memo is that Cohen refused to fully cooperate. That’s despite his public relations campaign to convince us that he is a new man who will cooperate with any law enforcement authority, at any time, at any place.

As a former federal prosecutor who handled hundreds of plea deals like Cohen’s, I can say it is extremely rare for any credit to be recommended when a defendant decides not to sign a full cooperation deal. The only reason for a refusal would be to hide information. The prosecutors said as much in their sentencing memo: Cohen refused “to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past,” and “further declined” to discuss “other areas of investigative interest.”

 

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Canada to Pay Heavy Price for Trudeau’s Groupie Role in US Banditry Against China

Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Huawei CFO Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


You do have to wonder about the political savvy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. The furious fallout from China over the arrest of a senior telecoms executive is going to do severe damage to Canadian national interests.

Trudeau’s fawning over American demands is already rebounding very badly for Canada’s economy and its international image.

The Canadian arrest – on behalf of Washington – of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seems a blatant case of the Americans acting politically and vindictively. If the Americans are seen to be acting like bandits, then the Canadians are their flunkies.

Wanzhou was detained on December 1 by Canadian federal police as she was boarding a commercial airliner in Vancouver. She was reportedly handcuffed and led away in a humiliating manner which has shocked the Chinese government, media and public.

The business executive has since been released on a $7.4 million bail bond, pending further legal proceedings. She is effectively being kept under house arrest in Canada with electronic ankle tagging.

To add insult to injury, it is not even clear what Wanzhou is being prosecuted for. The US authorities have claimed that she is guilty of breaching American sanctions against Iran by conducting telecoms business with Tehran. It is presumed that the Canadians arrested Wanzhou at the request of the Americans. But so far a US extradition warrant has not been filed. That could take months. In the meantime, the Chinese businesswoman will be living under curfew, her freedom denied.

Canadian legal expert Christopher Black says there is no juridical case for Wanzhou’s detention. The issue of US sanctions on Iran is irrelevant and has no grounds in international law. It is simply the Americans applying their questionable national laws on a third party. Black contends that Canada has therefore no obligation whatsoever to impose those US laws regarding Iran in its territory, especially given that Ottawa and Beijing have their own separate bilateral diplomatic relations.

In any case, what the real issue is about is the Americans using legal mechanisms to intimidate and beat up commercial rivals. For months now, Washington has made it clear that it is targeting Chinese telecoms rivals as commercial competitors in a strategic sector. US claims about China using telecoms for “spying” and “infiltrating” American national security are bogus propaganda ruses to undermine these commercial rivals through foul means.

It also seems clear from US President Donald Trump’s unsubtle comments this week to Reuters, saying he would “personally intervene” in the Meng case “if it helped trade talks with China”, that the Huawei executive is being dangled like a bargaining chip. It was a tacit admission by Trump that the Americans really don’t have a legal case against her.

Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland bounced into damage limitation mode following Trump’s thuggish comments. She said that the case should not be “politicized” and that the legal proceedings should not be tampered with. How ironic is that?

The whole affair has been politicized from the very beginning. Meng’s arrest, or as Christopher Black calls it “hostage-taking”, is driven by Washington’s agenda of harassment against China for commercial reasons, under a legal pretext purportedly about Iranian sanctions.

When Trump revealed the cynical expediency of him “helping to free Wanzhou”, then the Canadians realized they were also being exposed for the flunkies that they are for American banditry. That’s why Freeland was obliged to quickly adopt the fastidious pretense of legal probity.

Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has claimed that he wasn’t aware of the American request for Wanzhou’s detention. Trudeau is being pseudo. For such a high-profile infringement against a senior Chinese business leader, Ottawa must have been fully briefed by the Americans. Christopher Black, the legal expert, believes that Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

What Trudeau and his government intended to get out of performing this sordid role for American thuggery is far from clear. Maybe after being verbally mauled by Trump as “weak and dishonest” at the G7 summit earlier this year, in June, Trudeau decided it was best to roll over and be a good little puppy for the Americans in their dirty deed against China.

But already it has since emerged that Canada is going to pay a very heavy price indeed for such dubious service to Washington. Beijing has warned that it will take retaliation against both Washington and Ottawa. And it is Ottawa that is more vulnerable to severe repercussions.

This week saw two Canadian citizens, one a former diplomat, detained in China on spying charges.

Canadian business analysts are also warning that Beijing can inflict harsh economic penalties on Ottawa. An incensed Chinese public have begun boycotting Canadian exports and sensitive Canadian investments in China are now at risk from being blocked by Beijing. A proposed free trade deal that was being negotiated between Ottawa and Beijing now looks dead in the water.

And if Trudeau’s government caves in to the excruciating economic pressure brought to bear by Beijing and then abides by China’s demand to immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Ottawa will look like a pathetic, gutless lackey to Washington. Canada’s reputation of being a liberal, independent state will be shredded. Even then the Chinese are unlikely to forget Trudeau’s treachery.

With comic irony, there’s a cringemaking personal dimension to this unseemly saga.

During the 197os when Trudeau’s mother Margaret was a thirty-something socialite heading for divorce from his father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she was often in the gossip media for indiscretions at nightclubs. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims in his autobiography that Margaret Trudeau was a groupie for the band, having flings with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood. Her racy escapades and louche lifestyle brought shame to many Canadians.

Poor Margaret Trudeau later wound up divorced, disgraced, financially broke and scraping a living from scribbling tell-all books.

Justin, her eldest son, is finding out that being a groupie for Washington’s banditry is also bringing disrepute for him and his country.

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US Commits To “Indefinite” Occupation Of Syria; Controls Region The Size Of Croatia

Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005.

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Via Zerohedge


“We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation” — a Syrian resident in US-controlled Raqqa told Stars and Stripes military newspaper. This as the Washington Post noted this week that “U.S. troops will now stay in Syria indefinitely, controlling a third of the country and facing peril on many fronts.”

Like the “forever war” in Afghanistan, will we be having the same discussion over the indefinite occupation of Syria stretching two decades from now? A new unusually frank assessment in Stars and Stripes bluntly lays out the basic facts concerning the White House decision to “stay the course” until the war’s close:

That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.

The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000

A prior New Yorker piece described the US-occupied area east of the Euphrates as “an area about the size of Croatia.” With no Congressional vote, no public debate, and not even so much as an official presidential address to the nation, the United States is settling in for another endless occupation of sovereign foreign soil while relying on the now very familiar post-911 AUMF fig leaf of “legality”.

Like the American public and even some Pentagon officials of late have been pointing out for years regarding Afghanistan, do US forces on the ground even know what the mission is? The mission may be undefined and remain ambiguously to “counter Iran”, yet the dangers and potential for major loss in blood and treasure loom larger than ever.

According to Stars and Stripes the dangerous cross-section of powder keg conflicts and geopolitical players means “a new war” is on the horizon:

The new mission raises new questions, about the role they will play and whether their presence will risk becoming a magnet for regional conflict and insurgency.

The area is surrounded by powers hostile both to the U.S. presence and the aspirations of the Kurds, who are governing the majority-Arab area in pursuit of a leftist ideology formulated by an imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader. Signs that the Islamic State is starting to regroup and rumblings of discontent within the Arab community point to the threat of an insurgency.

Without the presence of U.S. troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Self-Administration of North and East Syria, as the self-styled government of the area is called.

“They have to stay. If they leave and there isn’t a solution for Syria, it will be catastrophic,” she said.

But staying also heralds risk, and already the challenges are starting to mount.
So a US-backed local politician says the US can’t leave or there will be war, while American defense officials simultaneously recognize they are occupying the very center of an impending insurgency from hell — all of which fits the textbook definition of quagmire perfectly.

The New Yorker: “The United States has built a dozen or more bases from Manbij to Al-Hasakah, including four airfields, and American-backed forces now control all of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area about the size of Croatia.”

But in September the White House announced a realignment of its official priorities in Syria, namely to act “as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence.” This means the continued potential and likelihood of war with Syria, Iran, and Russia in the region is ever present, per Stripes:

Syrian government troops and Iranian proxy fighters are to the south and west. They have threatened to take the area back by force, in pursuit of President Bashar Assad’s pledge to bring all of Syria under government control.

Already signs of an Iraq-style insurgency targeting US forces in eastern Syria are beginning to emerge.

In Raqqa, the largest Syrian city at the heart of US occupation and reconstruction efforts, the Stripes report finds the following:

The anger on the streets is palpable. Some residents are openly hostile to foreign visitors, which is rare in other towns and cities freed from Islamic State control in Syria and Iraq. Even those who support the presence of the U.S. military and the SDF say they are resentful that the United States and its partners in the anti-ISIS coalition that bombed the city aren’t helping to rebuild.

And many appear not to support their new rulers.

We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation,” said one man, a tailor, who didn’t want to give his name because he feared the consequences of speaking his mind. “I don’t know why they had to use such a huge number of weapons and destroy the city. Yes, ISIS was here, but we paid the price. They have a responsibility.”

Recent reports out of the Pentagon suggests defense officials simply want to throw more money into US efforts in Syria, which are further focused on training and supplying the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (or Kurdish/YPG-dominated SDF), which threatens confrontation with Turkey as its forces continue making preparations for a planned attack on Kurdish enclaves in Syria this week.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005:

Everyone says the streets are not safe now. Recent months have seen an uptick in assassinations and kidnappings, mostly targeting members of the security forces or people who work with the local council. But some critics of the authorities have been gunned down, too, and at night there are abductions and robberies.

As America settles in for yet another endless and “indefinite” occupation of a Middle East country, perhaps all that remains is for the president to land on an aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” banners flying overhead?

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