ATHENS – A prominent Greek-Russian businessman being sought for months by police seeking to arrest him on charges of invading a soccer field with a gun to protest a call against the team he owns, now has denied he was behind a plot to undermine a deal to give away the name of the ancient Greek province of Macedonia in a new composite for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Ivan Savvidis said he wasn’t involved in the alleged scheme that saw two Russian diplomats expelled and two others barred from entering Greece after the government said they tried to bribe clergy and the Church to try to thwart the deal to let FYROM be called North Macedonia.
Anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras also lifted Greek vetoes preventing FYROM from opening European Union membership talks and getting into NATO.
Unite Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, who failed for nearly two decades to find a solution, resumed talks this year after a three-year break and helped broker the agreement amid speculation the US pressured Greece to let FYROM get into NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans.
“We want to make it unequivocally clear that businessman Ivan Savvidis has no whatsoever involvement or relationship (in the matter), as stated in the absolutely false and extremely libelous article,” Savvidis’ Dimera Group, his holding company, said in a statement.
It wasn’t reported if he’s still in hiding since fleeing arrest although he’s also been said to be close to Tsipras with no indication why there would be an attempt to undercut the Greek leader’s deal.
As Greece expelled two Russian diplomats accused of trying to bribe groups to undercut the deal, FYROM’s Premier Zoran Zaev said Greek businesses aligned with Russia want to block a referendum in his country seeking to approve the agreement.
Speaking to the news site BuzzFeed, Zaev accused Greek businessmen “sympathetic to the Russian cause” of paying large sums of money to his FYROM citizens to commit acts of violence ahead of the referendum.
He said his government received a series of reports that people were paid amounts ranging from $13,000-$21,000 without revealing the source or those he said were financing the insurrection.
He also said that he asked, in private, for help with the referendum from US President Donald Trump at last week’s NATO summit, ahead of the American leader’s meeting in Helsinki on July 16 with Russian President Vladimir Putin without explaining what he wanted.