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.