Japanese Company Will Keep Greek Tobacco SEKAP Business Going

Ivan Savvidis. (Photo: by Eurokinissi/Christos Doudoumis)

Greek tobacco company SEKAP, which had been in the hands of Russian-Greek businessman Ivan Savvidis, who has had an arrest warrant outstanding against him for almost five months, will keep operating under its new owners, Japan Tobacco International (JTI).

Japanese officials from the company, who acquired SEKAP from Savvidis’ Donskoy Tabak, toured the factory in Xanthi in northern Greece and assured workers the former tobacco cooperative will stay in business, the newspaper Kathimerini said.

JTI will immediately invest $4 million (3.42 million euros) to align SEKAP’s production unit with European Union factory standards.

SEKAP, was established under its current name in 1975. Board Chairman Artur Davidian, said in a statement following the signing that negotiations for the agreement took over a year. “Since its reconstruction, SEKAP has had a dynamic presence in the Greek market the last five years. Now it is being incorporated into a large international tobacco company,” he said.

Japan Tobacco is 33% state-owned and includes the brands of Winston, Camel, Mevius, LD and American Spirit, as well as electronic cigarettes. JT International Hellas has been active in the Greek market since the 1980s.

It accounts for 1.5% of all tax revenues of Greece and buys 25% of the total tobacco production in the country. In 2018 it was recognized as the top employer in Greece, and in 2017 as one of the 25 best companies to work for in Europe.

In March, SEKAP, which teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, was kept alive after a local court in Komotini issued an injunction against imposing a 45-million euro ($55.57 million) fine for tobacco smuggling.

The fine was ordered before Savvidis took over the company and when the business was owned and managed by an Agriculture Bank-controlled operative in 2009. The bank later failed, buried by debts and bad loans. Savvides made his fortune in Russia in cigarette manufacturing and sales after the fall of the Soviet Union.

In December, 2017, SEKAP nearly closed because he said it couldn’t pay the fine. Savvidis has played a prominent role in Greek media and sports businesses and been close to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led government.

Earlier this year, the arrest order came after Savvidis took a gun onto the field of the soccer stadium he owns in Thessaloniki, where his PAOK team plays. He was protesting a referee’s decision.

Despite the order and that he’s one of the most visible and prominent businessmen in the country, he hasn’t been arrested or taken before a court.