By Stelios Orphanides
The Greek-Russian businessman Ivan Savvidi asked for an invitation to President Nicos Anastasiades’ inauguration ceremony a few weeks ago, government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said on Wednesday.
“Savvidi was in Cyprus on private business and notified the president’s office of his interest in attending the ceremony,” Prodromou said in an interview to state-radio CyBC on Wednesday. “As he was well-known in Russian politics, the business world in Greece and football, he was included in the list of possible attendees.
“The president happened to have met Savvidi in the past and following his request, he was included in the list,” the spokesman continued. “It was not up to the president’s office to decide the choice of the seat nor was it aware of that.”
Savvidi, the main shareholder of Greece’s football team PAOK FC based in Thessaloniki, was seen storming onto the pitch on Sunday armed with a gun and escorted by his bodyguards when the referee initially cancelled a goal scored by his team which was hosting Athens’ AEK. Greek authorities issued an arrest warrant against him on Monday.
During Anastasiades inauguration on February 28, Savvidi was seated next to Attorney-General Costas Clerides.
On Tuesday, Akel lawmaker Stefanos Stefanou, the government spokesman under former President Demetris Christofias, said that his party wanted answers about why and how Savvidi attended the ceremony.
Prodromou said that the president’s office did not intend to make a statement over how the guests at the ceremony had been seated as “Savvidi had no official capacity and was simply a private guest, a celebrity who attended”.
“We shouldn’t be discussing whether this sent a political message,” the government spokesman continued. “There was no political message and what happened next to make the issue more interesting are very sad.”
In a communication with the Cyprus Business Mail, Clerides said that at the ceremony, one of two men accompanying Savvidi, made introductions.
Savvidi, who talks to Greek media via interpreters, “sat next to me, put on the earphone for the interpretation and we did not exchange any other word,” Clerides continued. “I was later informed that he was Russian, the chairman of PAOK etc”.
Politis reported on Wednesday that Savvidi was in the company of his aide Sergey Anisimof, and Giorgos Gurovanides, a Russian-speaking lawyer from Thessaloniki.
Archbishop Chrysostomos, who was also sitting not far away from Savvidi, said that he had met him in December when the two were guests in Moscow of the Russian Patriarch, Politis reported. On that occasion, Chrysostomos and Savvidi spent ten minutes together in the hotel’s cafeteria.
The archbishop denied that he was in talks to sell the businessman the church’s television channel TVOne.
In August last year, Savvidi acquired around one fifth of Greece’s Mega Channel from Greek businessman Fotis Bobolas for a consideration of €5m. Two months later, Savvidi sold his stake to Cyprus’ Elenovo Ltd, a company headquartered in the same building which houses the Limassol-based law firm Andreas Sofocleous and Co. LLC.
In July 2017, Savvidi also acquired two Greek newspapers, Ethnos, including its Sunday edition, and Imerisia, plus their logos for a total of €3.6m.
The newspapers were also affiliated with the Bobolas family, a member of which was implicated two years ago in a waste scandal.