Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

We’re the card sharks of Europe

Corruption in football? We can hardly be surprised

 

THE latest scandal involving football match-fixing must have secured us the enviable title of “street card-sharks of Europe”. What an embarrassment! What a fall!

But what exactly is a street card-shark (known in Greek as ‘papadzis’)? It is the street con-man that plays the game known as the three-card trick, challenging passers-by to play against him. The ‘papadzis’ shows you three cards – a king and two queens. He then turns them over on a makeshift table, moves them around and if you can find the king you win. He always works with helpers who pretend to play and they keep on winning in order to entice others into playing and of course they always lose.

The word ‘papadzis’ has metaphorical meaning. According to the Babiniotis dictionary the word is also used to describe someone “who uses tricks in order to deceive others”.

This whole business with the match-fixing is reminiscent of ‘papadzides’ at work. I will not refer to the Spanish newspaper El Confidencial that claims corruption has penetrated to the very top of the Cyprus football world. These revelations have supposedly been investigated.

I will just mention the red notices for suspicious betting activity sent by Uefa and threatening to flood the Cyprus Football Association (KOP) building. By ignoring this news on the grounds that such incidents take place in all countries, we are sweeping the problem under the carpet and disregarding what Uefa had said – there were countries (like Germany, Sweden and England) which had not received a single red notice in the last five years. We have received 85 since 2011.

Native and foreign papadzides, uninterrupted and in full cooperation, fix matches destroying the prestige not only of Cyprus football but also of our state. Sadly, we have one of the dirtiest football leagues in world. We should not be surprised by what comes to the minds of Europeans when they hear the word ‘Cyprus’ – not a normal member state of the EU but a Latin American banana republic or something like the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Island: the favourite spots of international papadzides. This is the category of country they place us in but out of politeness do not say it to our face.

Cyprus’ politico-economic environment is ideal for the blossoming of papadzides. Probably the most staggering example, that stigmatises all of us was the theft suffered by bondholders at the hands of the banks. The whole matter seems to have been hushed up but this does not stop it from being one of the darkest pages in the history of Cyprus. It was not just the scale of the theft that astonishes but mainly the fact they pulled it off. At a time when cooperation between the central bank and the government had been frozen (how was that possible?) the greed of the banks reached its peak.

In a desperate attempt by the banks to recover the capital they had lost investing in Greek government bonds in 2010, they sold bank bonds offering a 7 per cent per cent interest rate when interest rates in the EU did not exceed 2 per cent. It was a move doomed to failure. But still many customers of the banks, at the behest of senior bank employees and in some cases bank managers, invested their deposits in these bonds, convinced that their money was secure. There are countless examples of the bank customers being misled by bank staff, investing in bonds, but unfortunately substantiating such offences was extremely difficult.

The bitter truth is that many of our compatriots lost their savings, their financial cushion, the money accumulated from a life of toil. It is a major moral issue that relates to all of us, regardless of whether or not we invested in the bonds because the two big Cyprus banks acted like papadzides to seize our money.

In the film Laundromat, starring Meryl Streep and Antonio Banderas, Cyprus is mentioned as one of the centres of countless cases of money transfers that could not be justified by the beneficiaries. Our reputation as a money laundering centre has spread across the world. It just makes you wonder. How did the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic manage to launder more than a billion dollars through Cyprus? And how did a few people pocket $250 million in the form of commissions without paying any tax? And how do we describe those that supplied a war criminal the means with which to commit yet another war crime?

There was both a political and a financial crime but neither the police nor the Inland Revenue Department deemed these worthy of investigation. It is not too late, even today, to act. In a country where there is rule of law, the passing of time does not erase any crime.

It would be superfluous to go into the matter of the golden passports in which both the president and the archbishop were involved, hurting the institutions they represent as well as the standing of the country. The foreign media has accused us of sacrificing everything in the name of profit, as was confirmed by the decision of the archbishop to keep the 30 silver coins (in the foreign exchange market 1 silver coin equals 10,000 euro) from an international papadzis.

I will borrow Martin Luther King’s legendary phrase – “I have a dream”. Yes, I have a dream: as a Cypriot to look at the world with my head held high and a sense of pride.

 

George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist

 



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