FT: “Greece’s privatization of OPAP faces investigation”


An Athens prosecutor is investigating Greece’s biggest privatization deal to date, regarding the sale of OPAP to a group of Czech, Russian, Slovak and Greek investors. OPAP was the State’s gambling monopoly and the country’s biggest sports sponsor.

These are the first lines of Financial Times’ report regarding the privatization of OPAP.

According to FT “The probe was launched weeks after Emma Delta, a Cyprus-registered bidding vehicle, paid €650m in August for the state’s 33 percent stake in OPAP and replaced the chief executive and other board members with its own appointees.

The newspaper reports that Ioannis Sevis is the prosecutor who was put in charge of carrying out the investigation.

FT mentions that this investigation will “cast a spotlight on Greece’s privatization program as it tries to meet ambitious revenue targets set by the EU and the International Monetary Fund under the terms of the country’s second €172bn bailout.

The OPAP sale enabled Taiped, the privatization agency, to meet last year’s pared-back revenue target of €1.3bn after several big deals were delayed or fell through.”

The article underlines that the investigation will examine if the procedure of OPAP’s privatization was transparent, merit-based and if there were possible conflicts of interest in the deal.

The newspaper makes special mention of “An unusual piece of legislation approved by the Greek parliament last April – shortly before Emma Delta and Third Point, the US hedge fund, were named as shortlisted bidders for OPAP – has raised questions about the country’s commitment to transparent procedures in line with EU gaming industry standards.”

A clause inserted into an existing investment law froze until last month the Greek gaming regulator’s obligation to carry out a “probity” check on potential buyers of OPAP, to ensure they were not involved in any criminal activities or money-laundering.”

The report continues with the statements made by Evgenios Giannakopoulos who defended this controversial amendment. “We relied on the privatization agency to carry out the checks. There wasn’t any point in duplicating the procedure,” he told the FT.

Last but not least, the FT’s article makes reference to the investors that purchased OPAP. “The leading investors in OPAP are Jiri Smecj, a Czech billionaire, and Dimitris Melissanidis, a Greek oil tycoon. Mr Smecj controls Emma Capital, an investment company which set up Emma Delta as a vehicle to bid for OPAP. He holds a 22.5 percent stake in Emma Delta but controls 66.7 percent of voting rights in Emma Delta through a separate management company. Mr Melissanidis controls a stake in Emma Delta held through a Cyprus-based company, according to one person familiar with the matter.

Mr. Melissanidis presented himself to Greek media and the Athens business community as Emma Delta’s representative in the capital during OPAP’s privatization process. Mr Melissanidis, a self-made billionaire, is the largest shareholder in Aegean Marine Petroleum, a global supplier of marine fuel listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

A listing prospectus for Aegean Marine published in 2006 stated that Mr Melissanidis, its founder, had been subject to proceedings, including criminal cases in the past. However, he was acquitted of the allegations except for two matters in the 1980s, for which he was fined.

The other participants in Emma Delta are the Czech-based KKCG investment group, Russia’s ICT banking group, J&T Finance of Slovakia and Christos Kopelouzos, the son of a Gazprom representative in Greece.

Mr. Melissanidis – not Mr Smecj – attended the official contract signing ceremony in August at the Greek finance ministry. In the absence of Emma Delta’s foreign shareholders, Spyros Fokas, Aegean Marine’s chief lawyer, signed the contract on behalf of the bidding group. Mr Fokas was later appointed OPAP’s first deputy chairman by its new shareholders. Mr Melissanidis’s son Georgios is a non-executive director of OPAP.”