Indebted AEK gets forward Okkas

Responding to surprising news of player acquisitions at AEK, at a time when the club faces the prospect of being ousted from the first division over its inability to handle debt commitments, the chief of a newly set-up debt-assessing commission yesterday demanded explanations from two top-ranked AEK officials over reported deals. Constantine Papalakis, head of the Professional Sports Commission, which has given Greece’s professional soccer clubs until July 17 to submit details of their financial status, summoned Yiannis Granitsas, AEK’s president, and highly ranked club official Petros Stathis to explain why AEK had decided to spend at a time when its debt problems threatened to relegate the club to amateur competition. Despite the club’s grim prospects, local sports newspapers yesterday reported that AEK had signed Cypriot player Yiannakis Okkas from PAOK. Late on Tuesday night, AEK struck a three-year deal with one of its disgruntled star players, Vassilis Tsartas. He had distanced himself from the club over unpaid fees dating as far back as last season. Should AEK fail to produce satisfactory documentation of a healthier financial position by the commission’s set deadline, it will, according to new state measures, be relegated to the amateur fourth division. Three other first-division clubs, Aris, PAOK, and Proodeftiki, also face the same threat. Cash-strapped AEK, which is struggling to keep its roster of unpaid players together, was sent reeling last week by a 23-million-euro fine imposed by the State’s financial crimes squad, SDOE, for false invoices issued by a former president. SDOE also decided to withhold 50 percent of the club’s future earnings and freeze half its bank accounts. During his meeting with the two AEK officials, Papalakis, the sports commission’s chief, said that he failed to understand how a club burdened by heavy debt could ignore the situation, renewing existing contracts and signing on new players. Papalakis reminded both Granitsas and Stathis of AEK’s serious and visible relegation threat to the fourth division. The officials contended that a 2-million-euro payment in outstanding taxes ought to be enough to relieve some of the pressure on the club and secure its place in the first division. Granitsas said that, despite the press reports, a deal with Okkas had not yet been finalized, but noted that an official announcement would be made in coming days. According to reports, Okkas, who was initially rumored to be preparing for a switch to Olympiakos, was persuaded to opt for AEK by a former club president, Dimitris Melissanidis, who offered the Cypriot player remuneration guarantees. Melissanidis, who is believed to be trying to re-establish himself as an influential administrative figure at AEK, apparently gave Okkas a 300,000-euro deposit. The player’s manager said yesterday that both Melissanidis and AEK’s coach Dusan Bajevic played an instrumental role in persuading the player to turn to AEK. Tsartas told reporters the Cypriot player had contacted him to inquire whether the AEK player would be staying at the club. Public comments made by Okkas indicated that his move to AEK was now all but certain. «If all goes well, I will go on to AEK. It’s not easy to leave the club which established you, where you have played good soccer,» Okkas said, referring to his days at PAOK.

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