Ukraine war shines spotlight on Greek-Russian billionaire Savvidis

Ukraine war shines spotlight on Greek-Russian billionaire Savvidis
Ivan Savvides, the Russian-born Greek businessman and owner of PAOK Salonika, arrives on the pitch with a holstered gun at the Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki, March 11, 2018. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 March 2022

Ukraine war shines spotlight on Greek-Russian billionaire Savvidis

Ukraine war shines spotlight on Greek-Russian billionaire Savvidis
  • Ivan Savvidis, a former member of the Russian parliament, has a fortune estimated by Forbes at $1.6 billion in 2022, making him one of the richest men in Greece
  • In 2018, Savvidis made international media headlines for charging onto PAOK’s home pitch during a match with a gun tucked in his belt to protest a refereeing decision

ATHENS: Greek-Russian billionaire Ivan Savvidis, a key investor in Greece who is thought to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, finds himself in an uncomfortable position as one Russian oligarch after another is targeted by sanctions in Europe.
Savvidis, a former member of the Russian parliament, has a fortune estimated by Forbes at $1.6 billion in 2022, making him one of the richest men in Greece.
A prominent figure in Greece since the 2010s, he is considered a hero by many in the north of the country after injecting millions in the depths of the debt crisis.
This month he offered to put one of the hotels he owns at the disposal of refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including members of the ethnic Greek community in Ukraine, who like his ancestors settled on the shores of the Black Sea.
But the reclusive 62-year-old found himself the target of unwelcome attention when the Russian embassy bluntly encouraged Greeks to watch his station, Open TV, to get an alternative view to what it called “misleading propaganda” about the war in Ukraine.
Denounced by Greek authorities, the embassy’s intervention has nevertheless raised speculation about the prolific Russia-born investor’s role and intentions in Greece.
Elected to the Duma, the Russian parliament, in 2003 and 2007 for Putin’s party “United Russia,” Savvidis has never hidden his closeness to the Russian head of state.
His official website displays a photo of the two men smiling with the caption: “I am proud to be a Russian citizen and I will always protect the interests of my country.”
“Since the beginning of the invasion, Open TV has given a prominent place to the war thanks to a large network of correspondents both in Ukraine and Russia,” says Nikos Smyrnaios, lecturer in information science and communication at the University of Toulouse in France.
“In my opinion, there is neither manipulation nor shameless propaganda. But in an audiovisual landscape (in Greece) dominated by pro-government channels, there is clearly a difference in the media treatment of the situation,” said the academic, saying Open TV’s coverage was less overwhelmingly pro-Ukrainian “and less warlike.”
The conservative New Democracy government has focused its attention on the businessman, who launched his channel under the previous left-wing Syriza government.
Though Savvidis does not appear on the lists of sanctioned oligarchs, “his case is obviously being followed closely,” a Greek economy ministry source told AFP.
A Greek reporter who has studied his case but asked to remain anonymous said: “I believe Savvidis will not be one of the next targets for EU sanctions. But if there is an in-depth investigation into his activities outside Greece, he could be one of the future ones.”
Savvidis appeared in Greece in the early 2010s, and was welcomed in Thessaloniki with open arms.
In 2012, he bought the most popular soccer club in northern Greece, PAOK FC, paid off its debts and put it back on the national stage, reviving the pride of the north whose identity had long been forged in opposition to Athens.
His investments in the region in the tobacco industry, the port of Thessaloniki, mineral water and tourism infrastructure gradually gave him a wide economic base.
“Through the scope of his investments, Savvidis is a state within a state in northern Greece,” notes the reporter.
A descendant of the Pontic Greeks in the Black Sea, Savvidis has also financed the first department of Pontic studies at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in addition to churches and a philanthropic foundation.
But there is a darker side too.
In 2018, Savvidis made international media headlines for charging onto PAOK’s home pitch during a match with a gun tucked in his belt to protest a refereeing decision.
That same year, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) said the billionaire had financed protests against the Prespa agreement, signed between Greece and North Macedonia to end a quarter-century dispute over the latter’s name.
Moscow has frowned on the deal, which has opened a path for North Macedonia to get European Union and NATO membership.
“Perhaps his power and influence in Greece is overestimated,” said Nikos Varsakelis, professor of economics at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki.
“If there are financial sanctions against him, the impact will be more on his image than on the real economy.”
Savvidis’ representatives told AFP he declined to comment.
But an associate and friend has dismissed speculation about Savvidis as ridiculous.
“They make him look like a spy, a Trojan horse of Russia in Greece. It’s ridiculous,” said the source, who requested anonymity.


Top Taliban cleric killed in Kabul suicide blast

Top Taliban cleric killed in Kabul suicide blast
Updated 13 sec ago

Top Taliban cleric killed in Kabul suicide blast

Top Taliban cleric killed in Kabul suicide blast
  • Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani was killed by a suicide bomber at his madrassa in the Afghan capital
  • Daesh has claimed responsibility for the blast

KABUL/PESHAWAR: A prominent Taliban cleric, Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani, was killed in an attack in a seminary in Kabul when the attacker detonated explosives hidden in a plastic artificial leg on Thursday, according to officials and Taliban sources.
Rahimullah Haqqani, who had recently spoken publicly in favor of girls being allowed to attend school, had survived at least two previous assassination attempts — including one in Pakistan in October 2020.
“Very sadly informed that respected cleric (Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani) was martyred in a cowardly attack by enemies,” said Bilal Karimi, a spokesperson for the Taliban administration.
“He is the only one martyred,” Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran told AFP, adding that at least four others were wounded in the blast.
Later on Thursday, Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack on the school.
Four Taliban sources told Reuters the attacker was someone who had previously lost his leg and had hidden the explosives in a plastic artificial leg.
“We are investigating who this ... person was and who had brought him to this important place to enter the personal office of Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani. It’s a very huge loss for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” said one senior Taliban official of the interior ministry, referring to the group’s name for its administration.
Taliban sources said although he held no official position, Haqqani was an influential figure who had taught many of the group’s members over the years.
Scores of Taliban officials took to social media to express their condolences.
“You have fulfilled your responsibility. Destiny cannot be prevented, but the Muslim community has been orphaned,” tweeted Mobin Khan, a former spokesman for the Kabul police.
Haqqani was known for angry speeches against IS, who have claimed several attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s return to power in August last year.
In recent months he also backed the right of girls to attend school.
“There is no justification in sharia to say female education is not allowed. No justification at all,” he told the BBC in an interview in May.
Since seizing power a year ago, the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women to comply with their austere vision of Islam.
They have not allowed secondary schools for girls to reopen in most of the country.
(With AFP and Reuters)


British Daesh ‘Beatle’ Aine Davis deported from Turkey; arrested at Luton airport

British Daesh ‘Beatle’ Aine Davis deported from Turkey; arrested at Luton airport
Updated 11 August 2022

British Daesh ‘Beatle’ Aine Davis deported from Turkey; arrested at Luton airport

British Daesh ‘Beatle’ Aine Davis deported from Turkey; arrested at Luton airport
  • Davis faces three counts under UK terrorism laws, two related to terrorism fundraising in 2014 and one related to possessing a firearm
  • CPS prosecutor Kashif Malik: ‘It is plain from images that Davis sent to El-Wahabi, Davis’ wife, that he has been with fighters in Syria and was not in Syria for lawful purposes’

LONDON: A British man accused of being part of a Daesh kidnap-and-murder cell known as the “Beatles” was remanded in custody Thursday on terrorism charges after Turkey deported him to the UK.

Aine Davis, 38, was an alleged member of the Daesh cell that held dozens of foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015 and was known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their British accents.

Two of the four have already been brought to justice in the United States for the gruesome beheadings and killings of several American captives, while another of the quartet died in Syria.

British police arrested Davis after he was deported by Turkish authorities and landed at Luton airport near London late Wednesday.

He faces three counts under UK terrorism laws, two related to terrorism fundraising in 2014 and one related to possessing a firearm.

Appearing at a London magistrates’ court flanked by two suited police officers Thursday morning, Davis — sporting a short beard and grey T-shirt — spoke only to confirm his name and that he was of no fixed abode.

His lawyer confirmed he would not be entering a plea or seeking bail at this stage.

Chief magistrate Paul Goldspring said bail would in any case be refused partly due to Davis’ “propensity to travel on forged documents” and ordered him held in prison.

He referred the case to the crown court, which deals with serious criminal offenses, with a pre-trial hearing set for September 2 at the central criminal court, known as the Old Bailey.

Goldspring noted that if convicted, Davis will face “years, not months” in jail.

The four members of the “Beatles” are accused of abducting at least 27 journalists and relief workers from the United States, Britain, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan.

They were allegedly involved in the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

The accused cell members, who all grew up in west London, allegedly tortured and killed the four American victims, including by beheading, and Daesh released videos of the murders for propaganda purposes.

Alexanda Kotey, a 38-year-old former British national extradited from the UK to the US in 2020 to face charges there, pleaded guilty to his role in the deaths last September and was sentenced to life in prison in April.

El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, another former British national also extradited to the US at the same time, was found guilty of all charges in April, and will be sentenced next week.

They were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria and turned over to US forces in Iraq before being sent to Britain and then the US.

There they faced federal court charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.

The other “Beatles” executioner, Mohamed Emwazi, was killed by a US drone in Syria in 2015.

Davis was arrested in Istanbul in 2015 by Turkish authorities on suspicion of being a member of Daesh, and was using a forged travel document, the magistrates’ court heard Thursday.

He was convicted in Turkey 18 months later, sentenced to seven-and-a-half years imprisonment, and released in July into an immigration detention center where he remained until he was deported this week.

In 2014, his wife Amal El-Wahabi became the first person in Britain to be convicted of funding Daesh after trying to send 20,000 euros — worth $25,000 at the time — to him in Syria.

She was jailed for 28 months and seven days following a trial in which Davis was described as a drug dealer before going to fight with Daesh in 2013.

“It’s believed that this (money) was to be collected by Mr. Davis or an associate,” CPS prosecutor Kashif Malik told the court Thursday, noting it had been raised in the UK “to support terrorism.”

He said Davis had sent messages and photos to his wife from Syria.

“It is plain from images that Davis sent to El-Wahabi that he has been with fighters in Syria and was not in Syria for lawful purposes,” he added. “On occasions he was in possession of a firearm.”

A 2014 search of the couple’s London property found speeches by Osama bin Laden and prominent Al-Qaeda preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki, Malik said.

“We believe this was material left behind by Mr. Davis,” he added.


Lebanon on precipice of positive change: US task force head

Lebanon on precipice of positive change: US task force head
Updated 11 August 2022

Lebanon on precipice of positive change: US task force head

Lebanon on precipice of positive change: US task force head
  • Corrupt leaders, Israeli and Palestinian peace are key issues, says Edward M. Gabriel
  • ‘Beirut and Tel Aviv pact can access oil and gas in Mediterranean’

CHICAGO: Lebanon will be on the precipice of change if its people end government corruption, and Israelis and Palestinians reach a peace agreement, the head of the American Task Force on Lebanon said Wednesday.

Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel, president and CEO of the ATFL, who was recently appointed to the board of the US Institute of Peace, told Arab News there are many issues that need resolution to change regional dynamics and significantly reduce tensions. But that positive change is possible.

Gabriel, who just returned from an ATFL mission to Lebanon, said that if the Israelis and Palestinians find peace, Hezbollah would lay down its arms and become more of a political party rather than remain as one of the toughest militias to successfully stand up to Israel’s regional military presence.

“Hezbollah is a political party and they are part of the fabric of the country whether some people like it or not. The question is, they need to put down their arms and make sure they operate as a political entity in Lebanon and not continue their terrorism across the region,” Gabriel explained, saying that if this happens the group could be a positive force in the country.

“Hezbollah has said that when there is peace between Israel and the Palestinians, there is no need for them to have arms. I met with the Shia mufti recently and he actually reiterated that belief. And I asked him, at what point do you see them putting down their arms, and he said exactly those words you seem to indicate.”

During an appearance on The Ray Hanania Show, Gabriel said there are other factors at play besides Hezbollah’s military strength and engagement in terrorism. They include Lebanon resolving its maritime disputes with Israel and ending the corruption of the Lebanese government in order to qualify for financial support from the International Monetary Fund.

“One thing has come up is a negotiation between Lebanon and Israel, two enemies that are trying to settle their maritime border dispute. We were encouraged that they were moving in the right direction there, and if they do it will send a great new signal that Lebanon can work with some of the tough characters in the region and find simple solutions,” Gabriel said.

Resolving the maritime issues between Israel and Lebanon can open access to huge pockets of oil and gas that lie underneath the Mediterranean Sea, he said.

“Lebanon has two problems. One is corruption and the other is Hezbollah having arms. You can’t have a country where you have a militia that can push itself around in the region over the heads of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Thank God the Lebanese Armed Forces are becoming much stronger. What they were 10 years ago and what they are today makes a big difference. No, I don’t see this as mainly a regional problem anymore. The Lebanese Armed Forces are protecting the borders and the sovereignty of the country pretty well. They have got more work to do,” Gabriel said.

“What this comes down to is a parliament that will tell the corrupt leaders enough is enough, you are out. We are going to vote for reforms and change and we are going to implement those through a good governance structure to make change. Those are two issues causing the problem today. The IMF program, the International Monetary Fund program, is a possible solution out if they react to it and pass the needed legislation in the next two months just before a presidential election. The parliament will have something to say about that. Will they elect a president that is reform oriented or will the same old guys elect the same old guys.”

Gabriel said the election results from May 2022 which weakened Hezbollah’s hold on parliament, offers a path to achieving greater reforms and rebuilding the nation’s shattered economy.

“Recent statistics put Lebanon in the bottom four of the worst (performing on the) economic (front of) countries in the world. Just a couple of decades ago — a decade ago — it was in the upper third of countries on the income scale. The World Bank says it is one of the worst economic disasters since 1850, possibly one of the worst three disasters. We have a lot to be concerned about,” Gabriel said.

“We met with the top leadership of the country, with a tough message. And that was you are in charge of a country that right now is going off the cliff. It is going to be a beggar state by next year and you will be responsible for this unless you can do something in the coming months to stave off the impending disaster.”

But he said that the reformers must find a way to come together in strength to bring change in the November presidential elections.

“Reform candidates, the opposition candidates, the change candidates took away the majority, away from Hezbollah and its allies. So there seems to be a movement there by a progressive group of parliamentarians that want to make change. Now, that is a long way to go but these phenomenal people who care about their country are doing their best under the circumstances. There is regional pressure on Lebanon,” Gabriel said, noting increased tensions and rhetoric between Israel and Hezbollah recently.

“But that’s making an excuse. Quite frankly, the reason why Lebanon is what it is, is because of corruption. There is massive amount of corruption in the country and it really has to come to a halt if there is ever to be any progress. The International Monetary Fund is come in with a proposal accepted by the government so far. But the government has to implement a number of reforms that will reduce corruption and address the needs of the people, so we will see how that happens.”

But Israel has to realize that it has major decisions to make regarding regional peace and find another alternative to violence against Palestinians, he said.

“Israel has to come to realize on Gaza and the Palestinian issue, they can have a one-state solution or a two-state solution. But to have a two-state solution they have got to enter into good faith conversations with Palestine to find a win-win solution. Otherwise they are going to get a one-state solution which more and more people are moving towards,” Gabriel said.

“And right now the one-state solution would have the Palestinian people over 50 percent of the population. So, it really is in Israel’s best interests to think how they are operating in the Palestinian arena. Having said that, terrorism by Hamas doesn’t help the situation. Right now, they need quiet in the region and now that Israel has a partner to talk to. Both of them have to come to grips with this for a win-win solution.”

Gabriel said he believes that despite some challenges, President Joe Biden offers the best route toward building up the Middle East, noting the US leader has spent much time addressing the region.

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Eastern EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington D.C. including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.


Delhi to enforce mask mandate again after spurt in COVID cases

Delhi to enforce mask mandate again after spurt in COVID cases
Updated 11 August 2022

Delhi to enforce mask mandate again after spurt in COVID cases

Delhi to enforce mask mandate again after spurt in COVID cases
  • People caught without masks in public in the Indian capital will have to pay a fine of $6

NEW DELHI: New Delhi will enforce a mask mandate again after COVID-19 infections rose in the past fortnight, a government order showed on Thursday, though a similar order in April failed to improve compliance.
People caught without masks in public in the Indian capital will have to pay a fine of 500 rupees ($6), the order dated Aug. 8 and shared with reporters on Thursday, said. Presently, mask-wearing is uncommon even in shopping malls and crowded markets.
New Delhi reported 2,146 new infections in the past 24 hours and eight deaths, the worst figures among Indian states and federal territories.
The country reported 16,299 new infections during the period, taking the cumulative total to 44.2 million, while deaths rose by 53 to 526,879. The actual numbers are believed to be multiple times higher.


Philippine leader threatens to fire officials in sugar mess

Philippine leader threatens to fire officials in sugar mess
Updated 11 August 2022

Philippine leader threatens to fire officials in sugar mess

Philippine leader threatens to fire officials in sugar mess
  • Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has temporarily taken the helm of the Department of Agriculture due to a looming food crisis
  • The president never approved or was aware of the resolution to import sugar, which was signed by an agriculture undersecretary and other officials

MANILA: The Philippine president has threatened to fire top agricultural officials if an investigation shows they improperly announced a decision to import sugar amid a shortage without his approval, his press secretary said Thursday.
It’s the stiffest punitive step newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. could take against officials over an apparent irregularity early in his six-year term. He took office on June 30 after a landslide election victory and inherited daunting problems.
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said a resolution authorizing the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar by the Sugar Regulatory Board, which Marcos Jr. heads, was posted on the website of the Sugar Regulatory Administration under the Department of Agriculture on Wednesday.
Marcos Jr. has temporarily taken the helm of the Department of Agriculture due to a looming food crisis and skyrocketing commodity prices sparked in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Cruz-Angeles said the president never approved or was aware of the resolution to import sugar, which was signed by an agriculture undersecretary and other officials. The document was taken down from the website by Thursday.
“This resolution is illegal,” she told a news conference. “An investigation is ongoing to determine whether any acts that will cause the president to lose trust and confidence in his officials can be found or if there is malice or negligence involved.”
“If such findings are made, then the only determination left will be how many heads are going to roll,” she said.
Officials dealing with sugar shortages and fast-rising prices, caused largely by the devastation of sugarcane fields, milling factories and refineries by a powerful typhoon in December, have opted to secure additional sugar imports to ease the crisis.
But Marcos Jr. rejected the proposal, saying it needed to be studied to protect consumers from rising prices while making sure “that we do not destroy the local industry,” Cruz-Angeles said.
Marcos Jr. also inherited a pandemic-battered economy, lingering coronavirus threats, deep poverty, decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies, law and order problems and political divisions inflamed by the recent elections.