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SEC filings shed light on Greek billionaire΄s legal past

The prospectus filed by Aegean Marine Petroleum Network Inc. prior to the company’s 2006 listing on the New York Stock Exchange provides a wealth of details about Dimitris Melissanidis’s past legal travails. Most significantly it is revealed that the oil tycoon himself is a ‘control person’ of Aegean Oil, a fact which upends his defamation case against the news magazine ‘Unfollow’, the hearing of which concluded Thursday. The prospectus also shows that Melissanidis has a history of being prosecuted over threats of violence.
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In February 2013 journalist Lefteris Charalampopoulos wrote an article in the magazine ‘Unfollow’ about alleged tax evasion (in greek) on a massive scale via the sale of shipping oil. The story based on a customs report implicating the company Aegean Oil referred also to the company’s founder Dimitris Melissanidis, one of the most influential shipowners worldwide and one of the richest men in Greece (read more about Melissanidis in the sidebar to the right).

Not long after the story was published, Charalampopoulos said he received a call from the head offices of Aegean Oil in Piraeus from a man claiming to be Melissanidis. And this purported Melissanidis, according to Charalampopoulos, did not have nice things to say: “I am Melissanidis. You will not be able to sleep. You will not be able to go out. I’ll be your nightmare. Fear of me will haunt you. They will come to your house and blow you up in your sleep. I am used to talking to big journalists. I looked you up and I will tear you down.” Unfollow published a post on its website about the alleged threats.

Unfollow was subsequently contacted by Melissanidis’s lawyer (read more about the lawyer and his political connections in the sidebar to the right) who denied his client had made the call and demanded Unfollow to retract the story. The magazine refused, saying it stood by the article. Melisanidis subsequently filed a defamation suit demanding €500,000 in damages from Charalampopoulos and Unfollow because of the initial story on Melissanidis’s alleged tax evasion and contraband. Yet the shipowner’s case rests on his assertion that he has no professional connection to Aegean Oil S.A., the greek company that the Unfollow magazine article referred to in its investigation. This is a perplexing claim given that in the Greek press, as well as in the company’s corporate literature, for years he has been identified with Aegean Oil S.A.. Furthermore, Lloyd’s List, the shipping industry’s most reputable news outlet, has routinely portrayed Mr Melissanidis as a businessman who controls Aegean Oil. (Examples: Lloyd’s List Top 100, 2012 and 2013).

The hearing of the case concluded Thursday February 27 at an Athens court and a ruling is expected in the following months. Yet despite the fact that one of the most powerful businessmen in the country is dragging journalists to court following allegations that he threatened to have them killed, most of the Greek mainstream media is pretending as if the trial simply does not exist.

But what the media is refusing to do (report on allegations about Melissanidis’s past and investigate his relationship to Aegean Oil), Melissanidis did himself a few years ago.

The prospectus of the company Aegean Marine Petroleum Network Inc. (ANW) which was submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in December 2006 (at a time when Mr Melissanidis controlled 88% of the company) chronicles all of the tycoon’s legal troubles going all the way back to his early history. From the 80s when he ran his first business in Piraeus (a driving school) and received a bribery conviction, to another bribery conviction for paying off two players in an amateur football league, to his dealings with professional football leagues and his entry into the fuel business. The records show how in the past he has been charged in multiple felony and misdemeanors cases. They also show how, even though in some cases he was convicted by first instances courts, almost all cases resulted in his acquittal with court rulings reversed by either the appellate or the Supreme Court of Greece.

The most important point: the prospectus of his own company makes clear that Mr Melissanidis may be considered, according the US law, a ‘control person’ of Aegean Oil SA, a clear contradiction of what he maintains in his lawsuit against the magazine Unfollow.

'Risk Factors'

The prospectus writes on its first page: “See the section of this prospectus entitled ‘Risk Factors’ beginning on page 11 to read about the risks you should consider before buying shares of our common stock”.

Included among these risk factors is Mr Melissanidis’s relationship with Aegean Oil and other ‘related’ or ‘affiliate’ companies, and the ‘proceedings’ that concern him which “could generate negative publicity for us, harm our reputation and adversely affect our business and our stock price.”

This is not a big scoop. The prospectus is available online on the SEC’s website just as are all of the filings of ANW. Which begs the question as to why none of the major Greek media outlets that routinely report on Mr Melissanidis’s business achievements have ever mentioned the prospectus itself or any of the cases it refers too.

Ιn a subsequent prospectus from the same company dated October 18th, 2013, there is a reference to an article which is likely to be that published by Unfollow (despite the fact that Unfollow is a monthly and not a weekly magazine): “More recently, one Greek weekly has raised questions about Mr. Melissanidis’s supposed influence with key state employees and other business practices”.

With regards to the defamation suit against Unfollow, the prospectus of Aegean Marine Petroleum Network Inc. is important for two reasons:

1. The prospectus filed by ANW states that “Aegean Oil is a related company owned and controlled by members of the family of Mr. Dimitris Melisanidis, our founder and Head of Corporate Development. Mr. Melisanidis may also be deemed a control person of Aegean Oil and other affiliated entities for U.S. securities law purposes, but Mr. Melissanidis disclaims such control”. This rebuts the basic argument of the defamation suit filed by Melissanidis against Unfollow: that he has no connection to Aegean Oil. The exact same thing is stated by ANW in its filing to the SEC dated 31.12.2012 when Mr Melissanidis’s stake in ANW was significantly reduced.

2. It is not the first time that Mr Melissanidis is accused of making threats of violence. The 2006 prospectus refers to previous allegations similar to those made by the Unfollow journalists. In 2000, after an incident following the death of a worker in an explosion on a tanker linked to Mr Melissanidis, a union leader, Georgios Toussas (now an MEP for the Greek Communist Party), filed a criminal complaint against Mr Melissanidis for slander and for making threats of violence. In 2003, at trial Mr Toussas dropped the charges according to the prospectus.

It should be noted that a Financial Times article reported that Mr Melissanidis in 2013 had 'put pressure' on the chief executive of a state-controlled company about to be privatized. Costas Louropoulos, OPAP’s chief executive, complained in an email seen by the FT: “He insulted me, as on many previous occasions . . . You dare to sign [contracts opposing Mr Melisanidis's interests] and I will take your head off.”

The prospectus describes also a series of legal proceedings launched against Mr Melissanidis. Some of the charges levelled against the tycoon involve false certifications, forgery, the use of forged documents and trafficking in contraband as well as extensive tax and customs duty evasion in 1994 and 1995. In total we counted six prosecutions (two for felony, four for misdemeanours cases) and another nine administrative acts against Mr Melissanidis for a total damage to the state of 9.5 million dollars (in 2006 prices), plus potential penalty interest. Mr Melissanidis was acquitted in the first instance in the first two felony cases. For another two he was convicted in the first instance, but then acquitted by the appeals court with the acquittals upheld by the Supreme Court. As for the nine administrative acts he was cleared of two, convicted in the first instance of the other seven but appealed the decisions. The appeals had still not been heard at the time the prospectus was issued so the outcome of these cases is unclear.

The prospectus of ANW does not refer to the fact that for one of the above cases Mr Melissanidis was imprisoned pending trial in 1996 but subsequently released after 25 days on health grounds. For that same case he was acquitted in court.

'Powerful friends'

Ιn 2000 the To Vima newspaper expressed the following concern (link in greek) regarding those cases:

“What troubles the authorities but also the general fuel supply network are the powerful friends and acquaintances of many of the fuel smugglers and the immunity they secure for them. Kritikos, Melissanidis, Spanos, Chatzis and others who have been accused of fuel smuggling appear to have, according to reports from the Financial Crimes Unit as well as allegations from union members, relationships with well-known political figures and access to the levers of the state allowing them to secure favourable treatment.”

The Spanos referred to in the To Vima report is the father of Giorgos Spanos who has now been arrested for fuel smuggling. It is interesting that some of the biggest newspapers in today’s reports of those past events do not refer to the name ‘Melissanidis’ whereas in reports from the time names and even photographs were used. For instance footage of Melissanidis’s release from prison in 1996 was shown on TV and is available today on YouTube.

We played a role in ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’»

Finally, among the minor but interesting details included in the ANW prospectus is the reference to the company’s involvement in the Iraq War. Under the subsection titled, “Strong customer relationships” it is stated that, “We are an approved supplier to the United States Navy in Greece and played a role in fueling the United States Naval fleet during ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’.”  According to reports from the time (mainly from the communist Rizospastis newspaper), Melissanidis’s ships were responsible for supplying the American forces launching Iraqi operations from the NATO base in Souda Bay in Crete.

The existence of the prospectus of ANW was hinted at in an article by Kerin Hope in the Financial Times on February 6th, 2014. The article questioned how it was possible for the privatization of the formerly state-controlled gambling firm OPAP to be greenlighted by the authorities “without a ‘probity’ check on potential buyers of OPAP, to ensure they were not involved in any criminal activities or money-laundering”. The question remains unanswered and leads to a paradox:

With the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund – the body in charge of privatizations, and the Gaming Commission – the regulatory body for gambling, both declaring that they do not have the competency or the capacity to audit the bidders, and with the mainstream press refusing to go near the subject (either because of their vested interests or because they are afraid of lawsuits) the only source we have to learn about Mr Melissanidis is the prospectus of his own company, or in other words… himself. 

The 'meteoric rise' of Dimitris Melissanidis

Dimitris Melissanidis (also known as “Τhe Tiger”) is one of Greece’s most important businessmen and a major player in world shipping, occupying the 94th spot in the 2013 Lloyd’s List Top 100 most influential people in shipping. This is how the 2012 edition of the List described Mr Melissanidis:

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“Few Greek businessmen - whether in shipping or otherwise - can boast a more meteoric rise than Dimitris Melissanidis, who ran a driving school as his first business but is now a key figure in international marine fuels. His new multi-million euro headquarters on the Piraeus waterfront befits an oil, bunkering and shipping group that has an aggregate turnover of about €15bn ($19.3bn), half of it from Aegean Marine Petroleum Network, the global fuel logistics company that has been listed on the New York Stock Exchange since end-2006. Aegean has a presence in 20 markets, spanning north and central America, the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Recent moves include forging a strategic alliance with Sinopec-linked China Changjiang Bunker Co to serve Aegean’s customers in several key Chinese coastal ports and the Changjiang River. Apart from this initial footprint in China, the company recently expanded operations in Spain and has plans to establish further service centres in selected hubs around the world over the next few years”.

Mr Melissanidis is also, according to the Financial Times, a “leading investor in OPAP,” the state-controlled gambling firm that was privatized in 2013. “Mr Melissanidis controls a stake in Emma Delta [the company that bought 33% of OPAP] held through a Cyprus-based company, according to one person familiar with the matter,” reported the FT.   

In August 2013, the boss of the HRADF (Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund - the Greek privatization agency), was dismissed. “His mistake”, according to a blog post by the Economist “was to have flown on a private jet belonging to a Greek oil tycoon, Dimitris Melissanidis, one of the buyers of a 33% stake in OPAP, the state gambling company, hours after the €652m ($872m) deal was signed”.

Mr Melissanidis is also a prominent figure in the world of Greek professional football having been president and major shareholder of AEK F.C.. During his tenure running the club, from 1992 to 1995, AEK won successive championships outshining the two top clubs in the country. Mr Melissanidis returned to AEK in 2013 in order to save the club after it had been relegated due to financial difficulties.
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Evidence


Below are excerpts from the prospectus of Aegean Marine Petroleum Network Inc. filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission prior to its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange in order to inform potential investors about the company.  Click on the (+) to read the excerpt. The excerpts are arranged in the same order they are found in the document.

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Aegean's role in the Iraq War
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Strong Customer Relationships (page 3)

We are an approved supplier to the United States  Navy in Greece and played a role in fueling the United States  Naval fleet during " Operation Iraqi Freedom." 
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About Mr. Melissanidis's relationship to Aegean Oil
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Aegean Oil and other affiliated entities are owned and controlled by members of Mr. Melisanidis' family. Mr. Melisanidis has also been involved historically with our related companies and had a leadership role with respect to the promotion of their products  and services. [...]

Section «RISK FACTORS» (pages 14-15)

Failure by Aegean Oil or other third party physical suppliers to provide services to us and our customers as agreed could subject us to customer claims and negatively affect our results.

Mr. Melis anidis, our founder, President and Chief Executive Officer, who upon the completion of this offering will resign from his  present positions  and will serve as  our Head of Corporate Development, may also be deemed a control person of Aegean Oil and other affiliated entities  for United States  securities law purposes, but Mr. Melisanidis disclaims such control.
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About Mr. Melissanidis's relationship to Aegean Marine Petroleum
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Mr. Melisanidis, through Leveret, and Messrs. Georgiopoulos and Tavlarios, through AMPNInvest, will control our Company and may not act in the best interests of our other shareholders. [...]

Accordingly both Mr. Melisanidis, through Leveret, and Messrs. Georgiopoulos and Tavlarios, through AMPNInvest, may be deemed to control our Company.
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Procceedings against Mr Melissanidis
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Proceedings concerning our founder and largest shareholder, Dimitris Melisanidis, could generate negative publicity for us, harm our reputation and adversely affect our business and our stock price.

Our founder and largest shareholder, Dimitris Melisanidis, has played a key role in the development and success of our business. Mr. Melisanidis is a prominent figure in Greece and has  been the subject of a variety of proceedings , including two felony and four misdemeanor cases  brought in 1999 and 2000 alleging illegal fuel trading, and a felony case brought by the counterparty to a commercial dispute alleging embezzlement, all resulting in acquittal. Mr. Melisanidis was  also subject to a 1988 misdemeanor case alleging complicity in bribery of a civil servant in connection with obtaining a drivers  license for a student at a time when Mr. Melisanidis  operated a driving school and a 1980 misdemeanor case alleging bribery of two players in an amateur soccer game. These matters  resulted in convictions  and fines of approximately $928 and $2,330 (in U.S. dollars  at the time). The foregoing criminal matters  and other proceedings  are discussed in this prospectus under the heading " Busines s —Proceedings  Involving Our Founder, Mr. Melisanidis ." Some of these matters, as well as alleged improprieties by Mr. Melisanidis in connection with his involvement in professional soccer in Greece, have received extensive press coverage in Greece.

These matters, and any future proceedings or allegations  against Mr. Melisanidis regarding these or other matters, could result in additional negative press speculation as well as adverse perceptions  of him or us among the public, our industry or in the capital markets, any of which could have a material adverse effect on our business  and the market price of our common s tock. Future allegations or proceedings involving Mr. Melisanidis could also divert his attention from his role in our business .

Mr. Melisanidis, through Leveret, and Messrs. Georgiopoulos and Tavlarios, through AMPNInvest, will control our Company and may not act in the best interests of our other shareholders.
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A $10 million lawsuit in Jamaica
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On November 30, 2005, a third party initiated a civil lawsuit in the Court of First Instance in Piraeus against us seeking a payment of approximately $10.0 million and legal expenses. The suit alleges that the plaintiff is entitled to the commissions of $1 per ton of marine petroleum sold in Jamaica during a 12-year period beginning on March 1, 2005. The case is currently scheduled to be heard on November 29, 2006. Although it is not possible to predict the outcome of this litigation, based on the facts known to us, we believe that this litigation will not have a material adverse effect on our financial position or results of operations. We are not involved in any other legal proceedings which may have, or have had, a significant effect on our business, financial position, results of operations or liquidity, nor are we aware of any legal proceedings that are pending or threatened which may have a significant effect on our business, financial position, results of operations or liquidity.
 
On October 23, 2006, an opposition Member of the Jamaican Parliament sent a letter to the Contractor General of Jamaica, or the Contractor General, requesting that the Contractor General investigate a number of transactions involving Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, or PCJ, an affiliate of Petrojam Limited. Included among those requests was a request that the Contractor General investigate our contract with Petrojam Limited. In the request, the opposition Member made reference to the action brought against us, described above.
 
The opposition Member also requested that the Contractor General investigate an oil contract between PCJ and Trafigura, not involving us, and all contracts negotiated and signed by the former Jamaican Minister of Information and Development during the past six months. We have not been contacted by either the Contractor General or the opposition Member in connection with this matter.
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Criminal charges & acquittals
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Proceedings Involving Dimitris Melisanidis
 
Our founder and largest shareholder, Dimitris Melisanidis, has been subject to a number of proceedings, including criminal cases, which are described below. Our company is not a party to any of these proceedings.

Petroleum Bunkering & Supply

During the 1990s, the Greek customs authorities investigated industry-wide allegations of sham bunkering transactions intended to avoid customs duties and taxes by diverting into the domestic Greek oil market duty free fuel intended for "transit" vessels stopping at Greek ports only for refueling.
 
This investigation resulted in felony cases against a number of defendants. In 1999 and 2000, Mr. Melisanidis was charged in two felony cases relating to events which allegedly took place in 1994 and 1995 involving multiple instances of false certifications, forgery, use of forged documents and trafficking in contraband.
 
These indictments alleged that Mr. Melisanidis distributed duty free fuel intended for transit vessels into the Greek domestic oil market through sham vessel refueling operations, and that he collaborated with customs officials to falsify certificates showing that duty free fuel was delivered to the transit vessels.
 
The alleged damages based on the amount of taxes and customs duties evaded totaled approximately $1.8 million (in U.S. dollars at that time) for the two cases. The cases resulted in the acquittal of Mr. Melisanidis by the unanimous decisions of the trial courts. Following the acquittals, the Supreme Court of Greece unanimously affirmed the trial courts' decisions on the basis that they were well reasoned and free of legal defects.
 
During the same period, Mr. Melisanidis was also charged with four separate misdemeanors substantially similar to those described above, based on acts alleged to have taken place in 1993 and 1994. The alleged damages in these cases based on the amount of taxes allegedly evaded totaled approximately $669,000 (in U.S. dollars at that time), and the cases were prosecuted as misdemeanors due to the lower amount of damages alleged.
 
In two of these cases, Mr. Melisanidis was acquitted at the trial court level. In the other two cases, Mr. Melisanidis was convicted by the trial court, which found that certain documents presented by Mr. Melisanidis were false and incomplete and concluded that certain transit vessels were not bunkered. Mr. Melisanidis appealed the two convictions, and after a full retrial by the appellate court, Mr. Melisanidis was unanimously acquitted in both cases.
 
The Supreme Court of Greece unanimously denied the prosecutor's appeal of one acquittal as untimely, and the prosecution did not appeal the other acquittal.
 
In connection with these six proceedings, nine administrative actions were brought by the Greek customs authorities against Mr. Melisanidis for the collection of taxes and customs duties due. Two of these cases were decided in favor of Mr. Melisanidis and the remaining ones against him. All of these cases are being appealed and involve an aggregate amount at issue of approximately $9.5 million (in U.S. dollars at that time) plus potential penalty interest.
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30-days imprisonment sentence 
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In 1999, Mr. Melisanidis was charged with the misdemeanor of violating a government order by continuing to operate a warehouse which had been ordered closed by the Greek authorities in 1995. Without his appearance and participation in the proceedings, he was convicted and sentenced to 30-days imprisonment.

However, under Greek law, all sentences of imprisonment for two years or less are automatically converted into monetary fines, and longer sentences of up to three years may, at the discretion of the court, also be converted into monetary fines.

Consequently, the sentence of 30-days imprisonment was automatically converted to a monetary fine of approximately $149 (in U.S. dollars at that time). In March 2006, Mr. Melisanidis filed a motion for retrial on the grounds that at that time, he was not a director of the company responsible for the warehouse. This motion for retrial was heard on November 23, 2006 and a decision is expected to follow.
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Death of a worker & charge for threat of violence
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In 2000, in connection with a labor dispute resulting from the death of a worker due to an explosion on a tanker that was allegedly owned by a company of which Mr. Melisanidis was a representative, the dock workers union filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Melisanidis charging him with the misdemeanors of slander and the making of threats of violence. In 2003, at trial, the union's president withdrew the complaint and the charges against Mr. Melisanidis were dropped.
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Indictment for $3.8m embezzlement & settlement 
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In 2002, Mr. Melisanidis was charged in a proceeding initiated by a criminal complaint filed in 1992 by the counterparty to a commercial transaction involving the sale of petroleum with the felony of embezzlement relating to the commercial transaction.
The indictment alleged that, in 1990 and 1991, a company of which Mr. Melisanidis was a representative agreed to sell fuel on behalf of the counterparty, to hold the proceeds of such sales in a separate bank account and to manage the funds to pay for fuel required by the counterparty's ships. The indictment further alleged that approximately $3.8 million (in U.S. dollars at that time) was unlawfully withheld from the counterparty.
Prior to the criminal trial, Mr. Melisanidis reached a settlement with the counterparty in the commercial transaction. After hearing the evidence, including a statement from the attorney for the complainant counterparty that the dispute had been settled out of court and that the counterparty had no further claims against the defendants, the court acquitted Mr. Melisanidis.
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Driving school & conviction for bribery
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Driving School
In 1970, Mr. Melisanidis founded a network of driving schools in Greece which he managed through 1989. In connection with the conduct of this business, Mr. Melisanidis was found guilty in 1988 of the misdemeanors of (a) complicity in bribery for facilitating payments from a driving student to a civil servant and (b) instigating the civil servant to issue a false certification with respect to the testing of such driving student. These acts were alleged to have taken place in 1984. This decision was upheld on appeal. The Supreme Court of Greece reversed Mr. Melisanidis' conviction on charge (b) above, but upheld the conviction on charge (a) above. Mr. Melisanidis' one-year sentence of imprisonment resulting from this conviction was converted to a monetary fine of approximately $928 (in U.S. dollars at that time).
In an administrative action in 1993, Mr. Melisanidis' driver instructor license was revoked as a result of his conviction by the appellate court.
In 1995, following the Supreme Court's reversal of Mr. Melisanidis' conviction on charge (b) above, Mr. Melisanidis driver instructor license was reinstated. Mr. Melisanidis was also convicted of regulatory violations in 1989 involving an employee of the driving school conducting lessons without an instructors license and operating a vehicle without a drivers license.
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Physical altercation with other oil tycoon during soccer game
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Professional and Amateur Soccer.
Mr. Melisanidis has been prominently involved with professional soccer clubs in Greece for many years, including as owner of an indirect stake in, and managing director and chairman of, the AEK professional soccer team from 1992 through 1995.
 
In 1999 he was involved in a physical altercation with George Vardinoyannis, the owner of a rival team and oil and shipping businesses. As a result of this incident, Mr. Melisanidis was fined approximately $661 (in U.S. dollars at that time) and both he and Mr. Vardinoyannis were banned for one month from entering soccer stadiums by an athletic judge.
 
During the same year, Mr. Melisanidis was involved in another physical altercation with Giannis Bethanis, a Greek Football Association official, as a result of which the Association fined Mr. Melisanidis approximately $1,651 (in U.S. dollars at that time), fined AEK approximately $3,303 (in U.S. dollars at that time) and banned Mr. Melisanidis from serving as a member of AEK's board of directors for three months.  
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Amateur football: Conviction for bribery
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In 1982, Mr. Melisanidis was convicted of the misdemeanor of bribing two players in an amateur soccer game that had occurred in 1980. The conviction resulted in a five month sentence which was converted to a monetary fine of approximately $2,330 (in U.S. dollars at that time), which was upheld on appeal.
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The prospectus


 

Revolving doors 

Mr. Melissanidis’s legal defence is being mounted by lawyer and politician Failos Kranidiotis who happens to be an old friend of and close aide to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
Furthermore a prominent politician, Makis Voridis (a former minister and current Parliamentary Spokesperson of governing party New Democracy) took it upon himself to trivialize the alleged death threats made by Mr Melissanidis in a speech before parliament (YouTube video in greek). "There is an alleged threat. Made by one private individual to another private individual," Mr Voridis said, adding, “it is a joke of a misdemeanor to be handled by the lowest court".

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