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.