Greece charges 41 over match-fixing as football scandal deepens

While the international football scandal surrounding Fifa and the arrest of its senior officials on corruption charges has shocked the sporting world, the parallel one engulfing Greece yet again seems to be at the forefront of global examples. For it expanded last week as six more Greek players were charged in connection with match-fixing and fraud, bringing the total number of those charged, including managers and referees, to 41.

Today, the millionaire owner of Greek champions and cup-holders Olympiakos turned up at the prosecutor's office to ask for details of growing evidence tabled against him, and to provide preliminary answers to five criminal charges. On the same day, the vice-president of the Central Refereeing Committee resigned following allegations against him for involvement in match fixing. Both men have categorically denied the allegations.

All six players facing preliminary charges are from lowly first division club Veroia. They are alleged to have complied with a secret deal in January 2013 between the owners of Veroia and Greek champions Olympiacos, whereby the game would end in a 3-0 win for Olympiacos. The club owners allegedly bet on this score and won half a million euros each.

Veroia player Alexander Kalogeris, in testimony at the Athens Evelpidon court houses last week, confirmed that he entered the game in the second half after being instructed by the team manager to lose the game 3-0.

The scandal has seen revelations about a series of dramatic events including phone tapping by Greece's intelligence agency, the involvement of Interpol, the bombing of a referee's premises, and a row erupting between the new Greek government and Uefa and Fifa. Football violence has also spiralled out of control, with riot police regularly seen on the pitch.

However, despite the long-running investigation into match-fixing, no one has yet been jailed. Five people have been sentenced to time in prison but were subsequently freed on appeal. Charges against a number of the accused have been dropped and there are fears that, like so many other investigations in Greece, they will fizzle out.

The most high-profile individual alleged to be involved is Olympiacos's majority owner Vangelis Marinakis, a shipping magnate who bought the club in 2010. Under his ownership, Olympiacos has continued to win the championship every year, with the club now holding a European record of 16 championships in the last 17 years and twice qualifying for European quarter-finals.

The evidence against Marinakis has included 100 pages of court-approved interceptions of his phone conversations, conducted by Greece's intelligence agency. Many extracts have been published in the Greek media. However, the investigation has stalled and one of the investigating district attorneys has proposed that the charges be dropped.

In a surprising move, Marinakis today turned up of his own accord at the prosecutor's office at the Evilpidon Athens court houses, to request another week to testify in full, moving the date from June 5th to mid-June.

Marinakis, a wealthy owner of a fleet of ships and a string of other companies, is facing five preliminary charges: the establishment of a criminal gang, match-fixing, fraud, bribery and perjury.

One of the most dramatic incidents so far has been described by Petros Konstantineas, a former referee and currently a member of Greek parliament for the governing Syriza party. He testified that in January 2012 he was visited at his bakery in Kalamata, southern Greece, by Theodore Kouridis, a former general counsellor of the Greek Football Federation (EPO). It was the day before he was to referee a game between Xanthi FC and Olympiacos, and Kouridis allegedly told him: "Be careful. Olympiacos must definitely win tomorrow."

Konstantineas said he refused to commit himself, and Olympiacos lost 1-0. Three days later, his bakery was stoned by unidentified persons. Four weeks later, a bomb was planted and the bakery was partially destroyed. All parties deny any wrongdoing.

The Greek government has introduced legislation to reform the EPO and impose prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines of up to €1m for corruption-related cases, with deputy sports minister Stavros Kontonis, who is heading the anti-corruption drive, telling parliament: "The situation in Greek football and in sport in general has escaped beyond any control and intervention."

Uefa and Fifa lodged strong objections following the EPO's appeal to them for help, on the ground that the new government law approved in Parliament earlier this month constituted increased state control of football clubs and restricted their independence. But he dropped the threat to ban Greek clubs from all international competitions, and is now seeking a meeting with Kontonis to examine how "improvements could be made to the law".

Meanwhile, the Greek investigation continues unabated, perhaps encouraged by the shock arrest of top officials of FIFA at the start of the world body's conference in Switzerland, on charges of earning more than 100 million US dollars through international bribery activities. The very latest development in Greece was the resignation today (Wednesday 27th May) of Christoforos Zografos, the vice-president of the Central Refereeing Committee which selects referees for the premier league's matches.

In an official statement Zografos categorically denied media reports that he was involved in the fixing of matches. He said that his "physical and moral extermination" was being attempted, and he threatened legal action. EPO announced that it will convene on June 10th to decide whether or not to accept his resignation.