Soccer club owner Makis Psomiadis – one of Greece’s most wanted men- was arrested after the anti-terrorist squad raided a luxurious villa in south Attica rented by Psomiadi’s friend, a thirty-eight year old former beauty Queen and model. For the past six months, taped conversations of Makis Psomiadis and his “friends” have shaken-yet again- Greek football to its foundations. The conversations appeared to lift the lid on a world of favours and behind-the-scenes deals between Psomiadis and other mafia-style club officials, the famous “παράγοντες”. Unsavoury as these conversations were, they represent only the tip of the iceberg. While “Makaros” colourful character has always been an easy target to ridicule, it is what lies beneath the surface of the “Big Mac” phenomenon that should worry Greeks instead of making them smile with a hint of sarcasm.
Makis-Makaros- Big Mac- Mac Boy
With his bushy moustache and eyebrows and smoking one of his trademark cigars, Makis Psomiadis depicts much more than the Greek “παράγκα” as Greek football fans call the deeply corrupted national Greek football league. He symbolizes the moral decay of a part of the Greek society that many hold responsible for the country’s economic debt crisis that has brought it to the brink of financial collapse. Most importantly, Psomiadis signals the ethical downfall that has created an enduring damage to the country prompting months of demonstrations in central Athens against alleged corruption by public officials.
From alegedly being a Junta torturer in his early youth, Psomiadis ended up owning newspapers, football teams, a horseracing stud farm and night clubs. He was involved in all sorts of illegal activities including smuggling, embezzlement, money laundering, forgery, kidnapping-and who knows what else- while at the same time he enjoyed a rather luxurious lifestyle with fast cars, beautiful women, bodyguards and constant media coverage that he thoroughly enjoyed.
Back in 2001, as the owner of AEK, the third biggest Greek Soccer club, “Makaros” pulled some strings once again and managed to have a handshake with the clueless President of Greek Democracy Kostis Stefanopoulos who not knowing how to react reciprocated politely.
“Makaros” always managed to “fool” Greek judicial authorities and politicians using his Greek “μαγκιά”, mainly because they too seem to have been filling their bank accounts via illicit deals here and there. Psomiadi’s immunity is the sad result of a country drowning in corruption. A country where according to Transparency International there is a going bribe rate for everything. From 300 Euros to pass an automobile emission inspection or get a driver’s license, to 2.500 -5.000 Euros to jump to the top of a waiting list for an operation, or get a construction permit, Makis had a great playground “to play ball”.
Carrying black garbage bags stuffed with millions of drachmas and later Euros, Makis always did business in cash. From giving his AEK football players their “bonuses” in 500 Euro notes, to American basketball player Andy Vrein’s declaration that his payment by the AEK president came in a garbage bag that on the top was stuffed with bananas while at the bottom there were hidden Euro notes, to paying five billion (?) drachmas in cash for the AEK stadium in Nea Philadelhia to be refurbished, Makaros has always been allergic to bank accounts and checks or any other form of payment that could trace his steps and make him pay taxes.
Using fake Swiss passports and bribing Greek police officers and judges, Psomiadis managed to get away even from Interpol and avoided imprisonment for more than two decades. From minor uses of influence and patronage to do and return favours, to institutionalised bribery and beyond Makis took advantage of the chaotic Greek public sector and manoeuvred as he wished without anyone bothering him. He has been convicted of a number of crimes, but has avoided serving time in jail by claiming ill health.
Bribing doctors from major Athenian Hospitals like “Sotiria” and “Onasio” to postpone trials has been one of his favorite hobbies for the past twenty five years. In fact, one doctor who in the past diagnosed him as being sick later committed suicide. At one instant he even claimed he suffered from tuberculosis while on the same day he was spotted smoking his cigar and having coffee in his favourite Athens’ posh hillside Kolonaki neighbourhood. The doctor who granted him the certificate later said he thought Psomiadis had tuberculosis because of a blood stain he saw on his tissue!
His legendary mafia tactics for resolving disputes with players and referees allegedly involved beating, threatening even kidnapping. From storming into the referee’s locker room and pining a football official against the wall under the threat of a gun, to sending his henchmen warning a footballer that they would brake both his legs should he not obey to their commands, burning down his footballers’ cars, there even are unverified rumours that he kidnapped one of his basketball player’s children for a couple of hours in order to scare him off and play a game. Psomiadis was unstoppable. His famous wrath wouldn’t even stop to top-notch politicians like the Minister of Environment, Town Planning and Public Works, Kostas Laliotis whom Psomiadis tried to blackmail using his newspaper “Onoma”. Laliotis took Psomiadis to court and after six (?) years of continuus trials Psomiadis was found guilty-but again, never went to jail.
The worst legacy of the “Psomiadis” Greek stereotype of “μάγκα”- even more so than the million of Euros he has added to the current debt Greek people have to pay- is his contribution to the moral depression that has affected Greek society. Undeniably, Greek economy needs deep structural reforms and successive governments have wasted 30 years in that regard. But the damage to the economy-at some point- can be repaired. The moral damage, however, is longer lasting and the wounds in the Greek society run deeper. Corruption takes two to tango and explaining to the 500-euro-a-month-generation- members of the new Greek underclass why they have to pay a 23% VAT on souvlaki to make up years of kleptocracy by various “Psomiadides”, government officials, civil servants and other “fat cat” tax evaders, is the hardest task Mr Papandreou has to accomplish.
EU leaders must understand that in the current Greek political realm, decades of tollerance of fat-cat evaders/high-class thieves have undermined the legitimacy of Greek governments. And as Papandreou’s accountability and representaion in policymaking has been reducced to zero, democratic values such as trust and tolerance that are intertwined with economic development are absent. At the same time, continuous scandals in the judiciary body suspend the rule of law in a system where junkies end up going to jail while multi-million scandal suspects use their high-places friends and end up free.
And while proclaimed “experts” have offered as many explanations, causes and even justifications for the Greek riots as there are stars in the sky, the truth of the matter is that if the legal authorities of this country won’t go ahead to press charges and put behind bars Psomiadis-like “businessmen” and politicians, Greek people will not develop the desired “tax conscience”and will find ways to not pay the price no matter how many revised economic programs the Greek parliament votes for every month.