Athens Digest 19.03.2018

• Government beleaguered by Savvidis saga

• Ahead of visit to Skopje for name talks, FM receives bullet in the mail

• Court ruling paves way for Skaramangas shipyards sale

• Casino resort investment expected to exceed EUR 400 million. Relocation of Mont Parnes casino on track

# Despite the efforts of the government to distance itself from the Greek Russian business tycoon Ivan Savvidis, speculation over its links to the PAOK football club owner has dominated Greek press reports that claim he had successive meetings in the past at the Prime Minister’s office to discuss his purchase of media outlets that would be favourably disposed to the leftist led coalition. Savvidis, a former member of Russian Parliament, made headlines h when he stormed on to a football match with a gun on his waist. New Democracy has latched on to the claims, saying in a statement yesterday that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras could very well claim the title of ‘maître’ of vested interests. “If they had not destroyed an entire country they would just be ridiculous. But they are dangerous” PM office commented, answering to New Democracy claims.
Meanwhile, Savvidis has sold Donskoy Tabac (DT) for $1.6 billion, along with its subsidiary, the recently privatised Greek Tobacco Industry of Xanthi (SEKAP) to Japan Tobacco. Savvidis aims to branch out with an interest in the long-term operation of Greece’s biggest motorway Egnatia, as one of the nine bidders is a group including Deutsche Invest Equity Partners, with which he bought Thessaloniki port (OLTH).

# As Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias prepares to visit Skopje this week for the first time since the local authorities there removed the sign with the name of ancient Greek warrior king Alexander the Great from its airport, Greek media reports on Saturday said he received a threatening letter and a bullet in the mail. The letter, received early last week, warned Kotzias against a deal that will allow the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to use the term Macedonia in its name. Greek political parties and the government condemned the incident, with opposition New Democracy calling on the government to launch an investigation into the “unacceptable” act. Despite initial optimism that a compromise deal to the decades-old name dispute was within reach, a shadow was cast last week after reports emerged that Kotzias’s counterpart, Nikola Dimitrov described Greece’s positions to EU officials as bordering on the “absurd.”

# The investment to set up Europe’s first Integrated Casino resort as part of the planned Hellenikon development in southern Athens is expected to exceed 400 million euros, according to Greek media reports. Last week, Greece’s Gaming Committee (EEEP) issued the details of the tender for the commissioning of consultants who will prepare the tender for the concession of a casino permit. Interested parties must submit their bids by April 11 and consultants will be chosen in May. The completion of the EUR 8 billion investment at Hellenikon by the preferred bidder, the Lamda Development-led consortium, will, to a large degree, depend on the outcome of the tender.

# Meanwhile, the procedures to relocate the Mont Parnes casino from the Parnitha mountain range in northern Attica to a northern suburb of Athens, most likely Marousi, are in the final stretch. The Hellenic Casino of Parnitha (51% Athens Resort Casino 49% Greek State) is reportedly ready to submit an environmental impact study of the new casino site to the Environment Ministry for approval. The Hellenic Casino of Parnitha has committed to invest up to EUR 150 million. Reportedly, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos is drafting a decision stipulating that the Greek state will retain its 49% stake without being required to contribute in the investment programme.

# The way has been paved for the sale of the Skaramangas shipyard via an international tender after an Athens court approved moves for its liquidation within a year. The court’s ruling came on the heels of an agreement reached between Deputy Economy Minister Stergios Pitsiorlas and Brussels, according to which, Greece will return shipyard subsidies, which the European Court has dubbed illegal, amounting to EUR 665 million to state coffers. Interest has reportedly been expressed by Korea’s Daewoo, China’s COSCO and shipbuilding industry leaders from Germany and the Netherlands.

On our radar: Minister strikes milder tone regarding Turkey
Differentiating his stance from that of Defence Minister Panos Kammenos with regard to the Greek soldiers that are being held in Turkey and which Greece wants released, newly-appointed Alternate Defence Minister Fotis Kouvelis struck a milder tone yesterday reckoning that Ankara does not want a military showdown with Greece. In an interview to the Real News newspaper, Kouvelis said “Turkey is not after a hot incident, let alone a conflict with Greece.” However, he expressed concern that “a chance incident” could occur as a result of the mock dog fights between fighter jets of the two countries over the Aegean, which could further fuel tensions. He said that tensions with Greece stem from Ankara’s objections to Cyprus’ hydrocarbon explorations. Kammenos, who has called the soldiers “hostages”, has sowed divisions within the coalition by straying from the government’s line of a low key approach.