Greek-Russian Businessman with Ties to Kremlin Acquires Control of Thessaloniki Port in Greece

On Feb­ru­ary 2, it was report­ed that Ivan Sav­vidis, a high pro­file busi­ness­man with dual Russ­ian-Greek cit­i­zen­ship and con­nec­tions to the Krem­lin, entered into an agree­ment to acquire a con­trol­ling 67% stake in South Europe Gate­way Thes­sa­loni­ki (SEGT) from Deutsche Invest­ment Equi­ty Part­ners (DIEP).  SEGT is a Cyprus-based hold­ing com­pa­ny that is the largest direct share­hold­er of the Thes­sa­loni­ki Port Author­i­ty (TPA), the oper­a­tor of Greece’s sec­ond-largest sea­port.  At present, SEGT has three pri­ma­ry share­hold­ers: DIEP (47%); Ter­mi­nal Link (33%); and Bel­ter­ra Invest­ments (20%), which is already held by Sav­vidis.

The acqui­si­tion, which is sub­ject to reg­u­la­to­ry approval, would see Bel­ter­ra Invest­ments absorb DIEP’s equi­ty posi­tion in the com­pa­ny and become SEGT’s major­i­ty share­hold­er.  Ter­mi­nal Link, a com­pa­ny con­trolled by France’s CMA CGM and Chi­na Mer­chants Port Hold­ings in a 51%-49% part­ner­ship, would remain a minor­i­ty share­hold­er of the com­pa­ny. A break­down of exist­ing and pend­ing share­hold­er inter­ests in TPA is illus­trat­ed below:

Ivan Sav­vidis has a his­to­ry of close ties to the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment. Apart from serv­ing as a mem­ber of the Russ­ian par­lia­ment between 2003 and 2011, he received the Medal of the Order “For Mer­it to the Father­land” from Pres­i­dent Putin in 2008 and, in 2020, anoth­er order of dis­tinc­tion from Putin for his “many years of con­sci­en­tious work.”  In this con­text, Sav­vidis has drawn extra scruti­ny for the strate­gic val­ue of his busi­ness inter­ests as well as the way that his finan­cial for­tune has been deployed.

He has been accused, for exam­ple, of lever­ag­ing his capac­i­ty as a promi­nent busi­ness­man in south­east­ern Europe to serve as a finan­cial con­duit for advanc­ing polit­i­cal caus­es favor­ing the Krem­lin in the region.  In 2018, it was alleged that Sav­vidis was a financier for Mace­don­ian inter­est groups attempt­ing (some­times vio­lent­ly) to sub­vert a res­o­lu­tion that sup­port­ed chang­ing the name of the coun­try to North Mace­do­nia, which was intend­ed to end a 30-year dis­pute with Greece and clear the country’s path­way to mem­ber­ship in NATO (which the Krem­lin opposed).

Sav­vidis’ increased stake in Thes­sa­loni­ki Port, by way of SEGT, would be espe­cial­ly note­wor­thy giv­en the inter­est expressed in recent months by the TPA in acquir­ing oth­er strate­gic assets in the Greek ship­ping and logis­tic sec­tor.  In Octo­ber 2020, for exam­ple, TPA expressed an inter­est in acquir­ing a con­trol­ling inter­est in the Port of Alexan­droupo­lis, which is con­sid­ered a south­east­ern gate­way to Europe with strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance to both U.S. and NATO.  TPA has also expressed inter­est in small­er Greek ports, such as Kavala and Igoumenit­sa. The port of Kavala is also prox­i­mal to Alexan­droupo­lis.