“When money talks, the truth is silent,” says a Russian proverb that came to mind in relation to the Thessaloniki Port concession.
In recent days, the behind the scenes diplomatic, political and economic activity was particularly intense, especially after the 15 December postponement of the signing of the deal for 67 percent of the port, on the pretext that the letter of credit of the winning consortium was issued by a failing Russian bank that passed under state control, Promsvyazbank.
Officially, the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (TAIPED) announced that the postponement was due to the Russian government’s decision to place the bank under temporary state management.
The consortium is comprised of the Cypriot-based Belterra Investments (20 percent), owned by Pontian Greek-Russian businessman Ivan Savvidis, the French company Terminal Link SAS has a 33 percent stake (a member of the sea transport group CMA CGM that has 51 percent and the Chinese company China Merchants Port, which holds 41 percent), and Deutsche Invest Equity Partners (a German private equity fund) has a 47 percent stake.
At the beginning of December, US Ambassador to Athens Geoffrey Pyatt told the American Hellenic Chamber that there are cases of investments in Greece that raise concerns.
“We have seen the difficulties privatization faces in Greece, as in the Thessaloniki port, where it’s unclear who the private investors actually are and where their money comes from,” Pyatt said.
In late October, shortly after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ visit to the US and his meeting with President Donald Trump, American interventions aiming at canceling the deal with a consortium in which Savvidis had a stake increased.
For the government, it was a difficult diplomatic and geopolitical balancing act, as on the one hand it does not want to harm relations with the US, and on the other it does not want to displease some of Greece’s creditors, who want the concession to go to the said consortium in which, moreover, a government-friendly businessman, Savvidis, has a stake.
On the evening of 20 December, the consortium submitted a new 24 million euro letter of credit to TAIPED, again issued Promsvyazbank, which in the interim had come under Russian state control.
The port concession must now be approved by the Competition Committee and then ratified by parliament.