SPORTS

Clubs facing relegation

The financial crisis in Greek soccer deepened yesterday as AEK and PAOK, two of the biggest teams in the country, were threatened with relegation over transfer debts. AEK was given 30 days to pay up or be docked six league points; PAOK has until March 15 to comply. If they fail to find the money, they will be relegated to the second division. «In the instance that AEK and PAOK do not make the payment, after the docking of points, they will be relegated,» the Greek soccer federation, EPO, said in a statement yesterday. PAOK is currently third in the table. AEK, which is still in the UEFA Cup, is fourth. AEK has been ordered to pay Polish striker Gregorz Mielcarszki 350,000 euros, while PAOK owes 542,000 euros to Yugoslav club FK Zeleznik over the transfer of midfielder Sladjan Spasic, according to FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. Both teams have been fined 11,000 euros over the matter and FIFA is pressing EPO for swift action. AEK’s future is unclear after an Athens prosecutor pressed charges against the club’s main shareholder, Makis Psomiadis, for threatening behavior in a January 14 incident with star striker Demis Nikolaidis. Bodyguards accompanying Psomiadis were also charged. Psomiadis, who is appealing a 12-year sentence for fraud, is trying to lie low, disassociating himself from the club. Adding to the crisis at AEK, state auditors investigating the club’s finances are demanding 18 million euros in back taxes for the 10-year period between 1991 and 2001. Auditors are expected to begin investigations at AEK for 2002 within the next few days. Meanwhile, the home of the tax official heading the investigation was broken into yesterday. Authorities suspect it is an illicit threat connected with the investigation. The State’s financial crimes squad, SDOE, yesterday said that audits conducted on sports clubs showed that nine other soccer clubs, as well as a basketball team, made tax infringements in 2002 worth 9.8 million euros. The figure includes outstanding VAT payments by clubs, as well as tax deductions on player salaries. The teams named were Proodeftiki, Aris, Panathinaikos, PAOK, Kalamata, Ionikos, Paniliakos, Panionios, and Apollon in soccer, and Iraklis in basketball. Panathinaikos, tax officials said, had already settled its outstanding fee of 784,683 euros. SDOE’s general secretary, Dimitris Batzelis, said audits on other clubs were continuing. The State appears more determined to eradicate tax evasion in the sporting sector, a persisting problem in Greece. Panionios, for example, which recently declared bankruptcy and relaunched itself as Neos Panionios, cost the state an estimated 8.8 million euros. (Kathimerini/Reuters)