Anecdotes, images, multimedia, resources, research and data giving an insight into the greater Black Sea region.

The technology behind scouting through the largest leak in sports history

For more visit our Football Leaks homepage


The ugly heart of the beautiful game: Football Leaks continues to expose fraud, corruption and tax dodging (Photo credit: Nissen Mads, Politiken)


In April 2016, the European Investigative Collaborations network of 12 major national news organisations received a dataset detailing shady business in football, and set about investigating the mass of rich contents.

This consisted of email inboxes, a bunch of PDF and Word documents, zip and rar archives, whatsapp conversations and encrypted hushmail communication. Out of 1.9TB of data, our team analyzed one terabyte of data, which yielded more than 6 million individual documents

It was the largest leak in the history of sport and was made available to the investigative team of German news magazine Der Spiegel.

One of the options for EIC journalists to search through the data was a server that we set up at the Romanian Centre of Investigative Journalism (RCIJ), using whatever hardware was at hand.

Specifically, a 2011 MacBook Pro with an after-market SSD, to which we hooked up a large USB drive. It turns out that the MacBook, with quad I7 processors, is a powerful beast, and could churn through the documents at an impressive rate.

We processed the data in stages, using a tool we built for this project called ‘Snoop’. To get started, we listed all the files in the dataset, and stored them in a PostgreSQL database. Then we extracted the text from the easy emails (from Apple Mail inboxes) and indexed them into elasticsearch, a versatile open-source search database.

Now we wanted to give our journalists access to the search engine so they could start their work.


Maximising Security

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is difficult to set up and support, and replicating the search engine on-premises for each of the 12 news organizations would require hardware and people to take care of each server. We didn't have the resources for that. So we set up a secure HTTPS website, two-factor authentication using the TOTP protocol, time-limited login sessions, rate limiting and traffic logging, which gave us enough confidence to open up the server to our network of journalists, over the public Internet.

We implemented a straightforward process for sign-up and account recovery: the user would get a URL, which contained a short-lived code, that opened a form page. Here they would choose a password, and set up a second factor for authentication, with a compatible phone app like Google Authenticator or Duo Mobile. This process went smoothly and saved us a lot of support work.

Then we went back to the dataset: we ran Tika, a tool that extracts text and metadata from a bunch of different file formats (PDFs, Word documents, etc). We also introduced the concept of file containers, so we could analyze email attachments and archive contents.

Emails were a particular challenge, because they have a tree-like structure of text parts and file attachments, with a bunch of headers with specific meanings, and they come in several file formats to boot. The email parser from Python’s standard library would handle anything that looked like standard RFC-822, and Apple Mail's "emlx" format is a simple adaptation of that. We converted Outlook files using msgconvert and readpst.

There were many scanned documents in the dataset, so early on, Der Spiegel made a big effort to process all PDFs and images through OCR - a process that retrieves the original text from printed documents. We added support in Snoop, matching the files by their unique MD5 checksum, and indexed the OCR output along with the original file.

Each feature added to Snoop would yield more documents for the search engine. To make sure we didn't miss anything, we re-processed the whole dataset every time, using caches to avoid duplicating expensive steps, like parsing emails, running Tika, and unpacking archives. Internally, each document has a unique identifier, so there are no duplicates in the index, and documents have stable URLs in the search engine.

We started out with a very basic user interface: a search box, highlighting for matches in search results, and clicking on a result opened a new tab with nothing more than a text-only preview of the document. As the project went on, we evolved the user interface (UI) with feedback from journalists, to a two-column layout with search results on the left and document preview on the right. Now we display a bunch of metadata for each document, along with links to download the original file, OCRed version (if available), and links to parent and child documents (e.g. email attachments, zip archive contents, and navigation of the original dataset's folder structure).

Problems Encountered

Journalists were incredibly forgiving with glitches and initial usability problems, as long as they could actually search through the files, and, over time, get access to more of the dataset, as we improved the processing toolchain. The whole group stayed in touch via, an open-source clone of Slack, that we ran on a self-hosted Sandstorm server, and for the tech team, the questions, feedback and encouragement were invaluable. We hardly needed to set up monitoring in case the server went down - very soon we would receive worried (but friendly) messages and emails…

On the development team, coders Gabriel Vîjială, Dragoș Catarahia, Victor Avasiloaei and myself worked on the data processing and user interface, Coder Dan Achim integrated Hypothesis annotations, and Raluca Ciubotaru designed the user interface and helped us understand how journalists use the tool.

All of this work - document processing, indexing, the search interface, two-factor authentication and the signup process - is open source under the "hoover" umbrella project. We were in a unique position to build the tool, with constant user feedback, a large and varied real-life dataset, and hard publishing deadlines. Now we're smoothing out the rough edges so hoover can be used in other similar projects, both at EIC and in other places.

The source code is on GitHub - - and includes an installation utility to get started quickly. If you try it out, we'd love to hear your experiences.


Prominent Turkish journalist has been arrested over tweets

“If there was a free and fair judiciary, I would give you my testimony ... The failed coup doesn''t change the fact that there is a junta in power right now"

These words are from Turkish journalist Ahmet Şık to his Istanbul prosecutor following a charge of spreading ''terrorism'' through Twitter.

They are from yesterday.

Critics have called the prosecution of independent journalists in Turkey 'show trials'


Turkish authorities have now officially arrested Ahmet Şık, one of the country's most respected investigative journalists. 

He is charged with creating "propaganda for a terrorist organisation" and insulting the Turkish Republic, its judiciary, military and security forces.

The saga began at 5:56 on Thursday morning when 46 year-old Ahmet announced on Twitter: "I'm being detained. They're taking me to the prosecutor due to a tweet." 



Şık was then brought before a prosecutor and interrogated over his Twitter activity.

Several of his tweets are now being used as "evidence" that Ahmet created propaganda for the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party), FETO (Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation) and DHKP-C (Marxist-Leninist terrorist organisation).

The allegations, together with this grouping of organisations with contrasting and conflicing aims, is bizarre, as Şık has been one of the staunchest and most consistent critics of Gulen and his Islamist sect.

But like the so-called "evidence" against Şık, the prosecutorial line of questioning bordered on the farcical. 

At one point the prosecutor asked the journalist: “What did you mean by these tweets?” 

Şık’s lawyer, Tora Pekin, intervened, pointing out that it is the role of the prosecutor to first establish solid evidence demonstrating that Ahmet broke the law - instead of fishing for a response which could enable the journalist to incriminate himself.

Şık then refused to answer the prosecutor’s questions, declaring: “If there was a free and fair judiciary, I would give you my testimony.”

"The failed coup doesn't change the fact that there is a junta in power right now ... This [investigation] is an insult to my work ethics," he added.

The prosecutor presented the testimony to the Istanbul court yesterday (30 December 2016), and demanded Ahmet's arrest. Şık was brought before the Judge Atila Ozturk.

In his final defense, Şık said:

“I have been a journalist for 27 years seeking the truth. If I describe truth, the judge of my claims are the people, not the courts.

"I have no connection with any illegal organisations. I only stand against power. My aim has always been to disturb those in power, whichever party they come from. Because of this and because of my journalism, I have become the persona non grata of every era. This is a badge of honour for me. So actually, I do belong to an organisation, it’s called the truth. And my support is the people.”

The Turkish judicary has increasingly become a tool to silence critics of President Erdogan and to destroy the parliamentary gains of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP), just as it was used to attack those who investigated the political influence of exiled-cleric, Fetulah Gulen, several years ago.

One of whom is Şık, who was previously jailed.

“The same thing happened to me five years ago. I was a target for the Gulenists," Şık told the judge.

"The same scenario is taking place again but by the Government this time. I would like to remind you that judges and prosecutors who put me in jail are themselves in jail now or they have fled the country. I want to remind you about this to show you that power is not permanent. It will not be permanent for those who are so arrogant now, because they’re drunk on power.”

Following Şık's statement, the judge called a recess. At around 7 pm he returned to the courtroom with his decision. It was unsuprising. Judge Ozturk stated that Şık showed no remorse for his actions and ordered his detention.

Şık’s lawyers said they will appeal.

The prosecutor will complete a full indictment and should inform Şık of a trial date.

According to the EU regulations accepted by Turkey, this process must be quick. Law experts state, however, that the state of emergency powers currently in place in Turkey since the attempted coup last July could mean that it is months before Şık and his lawyers are able to obtain the indictment and argue their case.

Turkey: "the biggest jail for journalists"

The charges against Ahmet stem mostly from his activity on Twitter. In recent weeks, he has criticised the Turkish government's arrest of Kurdish MPs and the state’s military operations in southeast of Turkey.

But the prosecutor also dredged up an interview with the head of the Kurdish Workers' Party (the PKK), conducted in March 2015 when the government and the PKK were in a ceasefire agreement, and two other reports for Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet.

Şık's remarks during a European Parliament workshop on press freedom were also used against him.

Ahmet is now held under the Turkish government's state of emergency powers, adopted following the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July this year.

This decree is being exploited by the state to jail dozens of journalists, academics and lawyers, as well as the closure of human rights organisations, such as the Ankara-based, Gundem Cocuk, an NGO fighting for the rights of children, who provided valuable data to The Black Sea during its investigation into child labour deaths in Turkey last year. 

According to a 2016 report by the Journalists’ Association of Turkey, in the last year 780 journalists had their press cards revoked, 839 journalists were brought before court over news coverage, and 143 journalists are currently in jail.

Turkey has the highest number of jailed journalists in the world. 

"Terror" tweets

Ahmet was arrested over several tweets he made between late November and early December 2016.



Tweet 1: "If Sirri Sureyya Onder is guilty of these charges, then don’t many people including the ones sitting in the [Presidential] Palace need to be charged too?"

Onder, MP for the People's Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish political party with seats in the Turkish partliament, was detained in November for terrorism-related charges because of a photograph taken of him with a member of the PKK's media team.

The HDP, however, were part of the team negotiating a peace deal between the Government and PKK, which also including members of AKP - hence the questioning tone of Şık's tweet.



Tweet 2: "Instead of comparing people burned to death in Cizre and people blown up in Istanbul, why don’t you get angry about both of them? It's violence either way."

In February this year, 60 people burned to death in an apartment basement in Cizre, southeast Turkey, as they took shelter during Turkish army bombing campaign against the PKK.

The military claimed it "neutralised" several PKK soldiers, but others, including HDP members, said civilians were among those killed. 

Hence Şık's appeal to moral equivalence, which he makes at the same time as not condoning either terrorism or Government-backed arson.



Tweet 3 "Instead of arresting Tahir Elci [lawyer] they chose to murder him, you are a murderous mafia."

Elci was head of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, and a human rights lawyer who defended the rights of Kurds in Turkey.

He was shot and killed in November last year moments before being due to issue a press statement calling for an end to the violence in the south east of the country. 

No one has been arrested for the assassination, but the family and some HDP members blame the Government.


A fierce critic of Gulen and Erdogan

Ahmet was previously jailed for 375 days in 2011, along with fellow journalist Nedim Sener.

They were accused of being members of a so-called terrorist organisation called "Ergenekon", which the AKP said was plotting to overthrow the Government. 

Ahmet's unpublished book, The Imam's Army, about the infiltration of Turkey's institutions by followers of Fetulah Gulen - blamed for the recent coup -  caused his prior arrest.

In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Turkish government violated the rights of Ahmet and Sener.

Two years later, Turkey's supreme court quashed the Ergenekon convictions, stating that the prosecutor - who fled Turkey last year - failed to establish that the 'terrorist organisation' had ever even existed.



Investigative journalist held in Turkey

"I''m being detained. They''re taking me to the prosecutor due to a tweet" Ahmet Şık

Turkish police detained investigative journalist Ahmet Şık at his home in Istanbul today, accusing him of creating "propaganda for a terrorist organisation" and insulting the Turkish Republic, its judiciary, military and security forces.

46 year-old Ahmet announced on Twitter at 5:56 this morning that: "I'm being detained. They're taking me to the prosecutor due to a tweet."

The charges stem from his activity on Twitter criticising the Turkish government's arrest of Kurdish MPs.

Also added to the mix is a 2015 interview with the head of the Kurdish Workers' Party (the PKK), considered a terrorist organisation by NATO and the EU, and two other reports in Turkish daily Cumhuriyet.

The motivation for the arrest also include remarks made by Şık during a European Parliament workshop on press freedom.


Ahmet has been held under the Turkish Government's state of emergency powers, which were adopted following the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July this year.

This decree has been used to jail dozens of journalists, academics and lawyers, and to shut down human rights' organisations. 

The use of emergency powers means Ahmet will be denied access to any legal services for the next five days.

His lawyer, Can Atalay, told the Turkish news website Bianet that "the police are not allowing us to see Ahmet with the excuse that the process is ongoing."

Atalay later confirmed to the BBC that he is banned from speaking to Ahmet.

"Terror" tweets

The Turkish Anadolu Agency, a state news organisation and mouthpiece of Turkey's ruling party, the AKP, reported that Ahmet was detained over three tweets he made between late November and early December 2016.



Tweet 1: "If Sirri Sureyya Onder is guilty of these charges, then don’t many people including the ones sitting in the [Presidential] Palace need to be charged too?"


Onder, MP for the People's Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish political party with seats in the Turkish partliament, was detained in November for terrorism-related charges because of a photograph taken of him with a member of the PKK's media team.

The HDP, however, were part of the team negotiating a peace deal between the Government and PKK, which also including members of AKP - hence the questioning tone of Şık's tweet.



Tweet 2: "The war with the PKK, even though there have been pauses, has been going on since 1984. Instead of comparing people burned to death in Cizre and people blown up in Istanbul, why don’t you get angry about both of them?


In February this year, 60 people burned to death in an apartment basement in Cizre, southeast Turkey, as they took shelter during Turkish army bombing campaign against the PKK.

The military claimed it "neutralised" several PKK soldiers, but others, including HDP members, said civilians were among those killed. 

Hence Şık's appeal to moral equivalence, which he makes at the same time as not condoning either terrorism or Government-backed arson.



Tweet 3 "Instead of arresting Tahir Elci [lawyer] they chose to murder him, you are a murderous mafia."


Elci was head of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, and a human rights lawyer who defended the rights of Kurds in Turkey.

He was shot and killed in November last year moments before being due to issue a press statement calling for an end to the violence in the south east of the country. 

No one has been arrested for the assassination, but the family and some HDP members blame the Government.

Hence the anger in Şık's Tweet.


A fierce critic of Gulen and Erdogan

Ahmet was previously jailed for 375 days in 2011, along with fellow journalist Nedim Sener.

They were accused of being members of a so-called terrorist organisation called "Ergenekon", which the AKP said was plotting to overthrow the Government. 

Ahmet's unpublished book, The Imam's Army, about the infiltration of Turkey's institutions by followers of Fetulah Gulen - blamed for the recent coup -  caused his prior arrest.

In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Turkish government violated the rights of Ahmet and Sener.

Two years later, Turkey's supreme court quashed the Ergenekon convictions, stating that the prosecutor - who fled Turkey last year - failed to establish that the 'terrorist organisation' had ever existed.



Cypriot Club Apollon Limassol is at the centre of a scandal involving the transfer of players for non-sporting reasons - here we go into depth about the story of Andrija Zivkovic - the man who didn''t know he was sold to Apollon

Main story on the Paper Player of Cyprus here


Andrija Zivkovic: unaware he was sold to Apollon, now fully conscious of his move to Benfica


In July 2016, media in Cyprus published pictures with the Cypriot club Apollon Limassol’s president Nikos Kirzis and the Brazil and Barcelona forward Neymar. They were spending their holiday in Las Vegas with a common friend: Israeli superagent Pini Zahavi. 

While the trio was partying in Vegas, another Serbian talent left Belgrade for Benfica after months of quarrel.

Andrija Zivkovic (now 20 years old) was a hot prospect raised by Partizan’s renown academy that was sold abroad leaving his formative club with almost nothing. 

Zivkovic is known as the “Serbian Messi”. But instead of a call-up from Barcelona, he had one from Apollon.

Back in July 2014, Apollon Limassol secretly bought 50 per cent of the economic rights of this talented winger for 1.2 million Euro from Partizan, leaving the Serb club with only 25 per cent of the rights.

At that time, Zivkovic himself did not even know that this transaction was taking place.

The contract also included a controversial “friendly” clause to Apollon: it stated that Partizan will grant to sell the player to a third club “subject to an offer to purchase the player and to employ him with a minimum amount of 400,000 Euro net per year”. Had Zivkovic refused to sign for this third club, Partizan would have been forced to pay Apollon half of the amount offered for the player purchase. 

Let’s put it like that: had a third club offered six million Euro for Zivkovic, but the player refused their terms, Partizan had to pay Apollon three million Euro. Just for doing nothing. This clause was deemed “criminal” by Serbian lawyers contacted by the media in Belgrade. 

The situation then went out of control. The Partizan Belgrade president who agreed to sell this hot prospect under these conditions departed the club, and the new board put pressure on Apollon by slipping the contract to the press. 

Still, Apollon had a firm contract signed by Partizan officials and they were not prepared to lose the player. Zivkovic was pressured by the club to leave, he stubbornly refused to transfer and was subsequently sent to train with the B team, Teleoptik Belgrade. 

Meanwhile, soon after 2016 New Year’s Day, Benfica president Luis F. Vieira received multiple emails from a “socio” - a fan that is paying his annual fee to the club - telling him:

“Zivkovic is worth every penny invested in him. It would be an enormous pride and an enormous motivation for all the fans and the players to sign this enormous player”. 

After some unanswered emails, Luis F. Vieira decided to disclose the situation to the Benfica fan: “We are on top of him. We can reach an agreement if his father drops the numbers”.

In other words, if his father lowers the price. 

“It will bring us an enormous joy,” the ecstatic fan responded.  

In July 2016, he had every reason to be over the moon. The 19-year old Andrija Zivkovic signed for Benfica for an unknown fee. The Portuguese media wrote about a figure of four million Euro in “commissions and signing on fees”. Journalists at Portuguese sports journal Record announced the transfer fee: nothing.  

This is bizarre. According to a clause from the contract between Partizan and Apollon, the Serbian club “was entitled to receive an additional payment, equal to 10 per cent from Apollon’s net profit, of any sum above four million Euro to be received as consideration for future transfer of the rights over the player”. 

With Zivkovic’s transfer to Benfica allegedly being completed without any official fee, Apollon appears to have no profit to share with Partizan.


Cypriot Club Apollon Limassol is at the centre of a scandal involving the transfer of players for non-sporting reasons - here we go into depth about the story of Nikola Maksimovic

Main story on the Paper Player of Cyprus here



Maksimovic in Turin colours: 2015

Following in the footsteps of former Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic, 25 year-old Serbian centre-back Nikola Maksimovic began football at upstart club Sloboda Uzice before moving to Serbian giant Red Star.

After only six months in Belgrade, he was sold in September 2012 for just one million Euro. The buyer is once again Apollon. 

He was allowed to stay playing at Red Star, under the understanding he would transfer to Apollon in the January 2013 transfer window in a three-year deal.

But this only happened on paper. 

He remained at Red Star. 

Asked whether he had ever been to Cyprus, Maksimovic replied: “I do not talk anymore on this issue and there is no need to go back and discuss this issue anymore.”

Without playing a single minute in Cyprus, Maksimovic went on loan to Torino. On 22 July 2013, the Seria A club agreed to pay a 350,000 Euro fee and retained an exclusive option right to take the defender on a permanent transfer. The next day, Maksimovic signed a five year contract despite being on loan for only one season. 

Torino had until May 2014 to exercise their option in exchange for a 3.5 million Euro amount. The eventual trimestrial instalments of 300,000 Euro each (only the first payment differed - 200,000 Euro) were structured over the next three years. 

The last payment was scheduled for June 2017. 

This is the key to an incredible clause introduced next in the contract by the Israeli lawyer Ehud Shochatovitch. He’s the one that looks after the interests of Israeli superagent Pini Zahavi. In Football Leaks, Shochatovitch signs documents in the name of offshore companies from British Virgin Islands to Luxembourg, sends emails to Portuguese club officials in the name of this employer and talks with Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia about transfer judicial strategies. 

His email address is mentioned at the end of the loan agreement between Apollon and Torino as a correspondence address. This is further proof that Pini Zahavi holds great influence over the Cypriot club. A few lines under Ehud’s contact detail, Torino chairman Urbano R. Cairo signed and agreed to the following sentences:

“In any case in which Torino FC S.P.A has exercised the option and sells the player’s rights and transfers the player to another club on a permanent basis (“Future Transfer”) before it has completed the payment of the entire Purchase Consideration stipulated above. For the remaining amount to be paid by Torino FC S.P.A. of 3.500.000 Euro, Torino FC S.P.A. will pay to Apollon a percentage of the amount  paid to Torino FC S.P.A. for the transfer which will equal to the percentage still due to Apollon of 3.500.000 Euro in that moment”. 

Events that followed placed Torino in the situation mentioned above.

On 20 May 2014, ten days left before the deadline, Urbano Cairo informed Apollon that his club will exercise their option. 

They agreed to transfer Maksimovic under the terms already agreed. The Serbian already became an integral part of a Torino team that established itself in Seria A following their promotion in 2012. But for a metatarsal fracture that kept him on the sideline for a few months, Maksimovic regularly played in the first team and drew the attention of bigger clubs. 

In the last day of the 2016 summer transfer window, he went to Napoli. The terms of the deal are bizarre. 

Maksimovic was loaned for one season, but the fee is unusually high. Napoli agreed to pay five million Euro now and 20 million Euro next summer when they will permanently transfer the defender. The definitive transfer was set and done from August 2016 but the clubs preferred to loan the player for the first season. 

Had Maksimovic been transferred on 31 August 2016 to Napoli for 25 million Euro, Torino would have been forced to pay Apollon a huge amount of money. On that day, they were still 1.2 million Euro away from the 3.5 million Euro payment completion to the club in Cyprus. That is 34 per cent of the agreed transfer fee. 

Under the terms agreed by Urbano Cairo, Torino would have been bound to pay Apollon 34 per cent of the 25 million Euro fee from Napoli. Instead of 1.2 million, the club controlled by Zahavi would have received 8.5 million Euro, an undesirable 7.3 million loss for the Italian club. 

Now, let’s do a simple calculation: 2.3 million plus 8.5 million equal 10.8 million. This would have been the Apollon total income following Maksimovic sale to Torino. As a domino effect, Red Star would have been entitled to ten per cent of Apollon net profit from a future transfer. Mind that they sold Maksimovic for one million Euro. The base for making calculations is the 9.8 million Euro difference. If you deduct the player and agents expenses, Red Star would still be able to claim a hundreds of thousands Euro compensation. 

But after Torino and Napoli agreed to delay the permanent transfer for one season, all these calculations seem to be in vain.



Cypriot Club Apollon Limassol is at the centre of a scandal involving the transfer of players for non-sporting reasons - here we go into depth about the story of Marko Pavlovski

Main story on the Paper Player of Cyprus here


OFK Beograd versus Partizan: Marko Pavlovski


On 1 August 2013, Serbia became U-19 European Championship winner for the first time in their history. They beat France 1-0 in the final. That summer night in Marijampole, Lithuania, midfielder Marko Pavlovski (now 22 years old) had the honour to be the first one to raise the trophy above his head. 

He was the captain of Serbia, a creative midfielder who grew up at OFK Beograd academy from the age of eight. A few days after the final, his club president Zvezdan Terzic, told the media in Belgrade that no player at his team is represented by an agent. 

At the end of that month and away from the public knowledge, Marko Pavlovski was already an Apollon Limassol player.
As in the previous cases, the player signed a ghostly four year contract with an annual income of 50,000 Euro (ten instalments of 5,000 Euro each) on 28 August 2013.

Two days later, Pavlovski moved to FC Porto on loan for the 2013/2014 season. According to the contract he signed under the supervision of the brother-in-law of Terzic, agent Nikola Damjanac, his salary increased to 7,500 Euro per month.

Apollon received 120,000 Euro and offered the Portuguese club the option to purchase 90 per cent of the Serbian’s economic rights in a complex layout over a three year period. Porto had three successive purchase options for a total of 4.5 million Euro 

Apollon included a “refusal clause” that would have forced Porto to sell the player for ten million Euro to any club offering this amount of money. The clause is tricky. 

One example: had Porto rejected a ten million Euro offer from rivals Benfica, they had to pay Apollon this amount multiplied by the Apollon share in Pavlovski at that moment. Depending on the moment the offer had come, the mandatory payable fee would have been between 11 and 15 million Euro.

Pavlovski didn’t play for FC Porto’s first team. He was included in FC Porto B squad and played only eight games in the Portuguese second league. Still, FC Porto kept him for one more season. This time, the loan fee due to Apollon increased to 150,000 Euro and so the player gross monthly wage to 8,500 Euro. His playing time increased during this second season in Portugal but FC Porto apparently declined to purchase the player. 

After two years at FC Porto B, the captain of the U-19 European Championships winning team from 2013 came back to Apollon only to be loaned out again. On 27 July 2015, Apollon lent the player to Belgian first division side (now-called) Royal Excel Mouscron for the 2015/16 season ‘“free of charge”. 

The Belgian club was just being bought by an “investment fund” fronted by Israeli superagent Pini Zahavi.  

But Pavlovski will soon be on the move again. Six months and only three games later, OFK Beograd borrowed his wandering son from Apollon until the summer of 2016.

At the end of that period, Pavlovski signed for Croatian RNK Split. TransferMarket announced him a free agent, but according to FC Porto internal documents from January 2016, the player was still bound to Apollon by contract until the summer of 2017 at least. The relationship is complicated. 

FC Porto had the right to buy percentages of the player in consecutive steps: 50 per cent in April 2015 for two million Euro Euro, 20 per cent in April 2016 for one million Euro and another 20 per cent for an additional 1.5 million Euro.


A guide to cashing in from four ways while negotiating with an English Premier League club in the player transfer of a Serb international


Read more at our Football Leaks page

For a related article on the Zahavi network, read The Paper Players of Cyprus

Markovic: a huge source of cash for Israeli superagent Pini Zahavi's network (GSP/Getty)


22 year-old Serbian winger Lazar Markovic has entered the giant financial mechanism understood to be overseen by Israeli superagent Pini Zahavi through offshore companies from the British Virgin Islands to Malta.


In July 2014, he joined English Premier League club Liverpool from Portugal's Benfica for 25 million Euro. Currently the player is on loan from the English club to Sporting Lisbon.

When Liverpool bought Markovic, they acquired 100 per cent of the players’ federative and economical rights.

This means they owned him outright.

But he wasn't entirely the property of Benfica at the time.

One of the player owners appears to be Pini Zahavi, through a British Virgin Islands offshore company called Leiston Holdings, a company with which he is repeatedly associated in Football Leaks.

But this was not the only role the super-agent was performing during the negotiations.

While Zahavi's 'company' sold 50 per cent of the player to Liverpool, fresh documents reveal that members of Zahavi's 'network' received almost three million Euro for Markovic’s image rights through an offshore company in Malta.

This is not all.

Members of Zahavi's network also represented both the Serbian winger and the English club at the signing of the contract.


1: Cashing in from third-party ownership 

Leiston Holdings is an offshore commercial vehicle understood to be used by superagent Pini Zahavi to trade players’ economic rights across the world in several deals. 

FIFA has banned this practice, known as Third Party Ownership (TPO), since May 2015, when it prohibited influence from a third party on clubs' independence. The English Premier League had already banned TPO.

In April 2012, Leiston Holdings signed an agreement with Partizan Belgrade to buy the economic rights of Markovic, then 18 years old. The details of the deal could not be found in Football-Leaks.

Club talents from Partizan are often recruited by Fali Ramadani, a highly controversial Macedonian football intermediary of Albanian origins and a showrunner for the sports management agency Lian Sports.

In another email in Football Leaks, superagent Pini Zahavi calls Ramadani “my guy Fali”. They attend business meetings together and Lian Sports players are the preferred clients of Apollon Limassol, a club in the first division in and Royal Excel Mouscron, a club in Belgium's first division.

Lazar Markovic is represented by Lian Sports.

On 1 July 2013, Lazar and his brother Filip Markovic were transferred to Benfica. The Portuguese club bought 100 per cent of Lazar’s federative rights and 50 per cent of his economic rights from Leiston Holdings, the latter for 6.25 million Euro.

Zahavi’s "company" is based at the same address - Coastal Building, Wickham’s Cay 11 PO Box 2221; Tortola; Road Town; British Virgin Islands - where “offshore constructions” from the Panama Papers can be traced.

The brothers signed their contracts in the presence of the Lian Sports agent, Nikola Damjanac.

On 14 July 2014 Liverpool bought out Markovic - 50 per cent from his club, Benfica, and 50 per cent from Leiston Holdings, with each pocketing 12.5 million Euro.

In just 36 months, Leiston's share of Markovic’s transfers reached a staggering 18.75 million Euro. Benfica’s profit from the deals was 5.75 million Euro, while Partizan probably remained with an estimated amount of two to 2.5 million Euro, despite the Serbian club launching the player’s career.

The agent won twice the combined amount the clubs received for the player.

This looks like great business.

But this is only the beginning.


2. Cashing in as agent for club and player

Pini Zahavi’s shadow followed Lazar Markovic to England even after he sold his economic rights to Liverpool.

On the same day Liverpool and Benfica settled a deal with Leiston, the player born in Cacak, Serbia, agreed to a five-year contract with a basic wage of 44,688 GBP per week. His income could have been increased further based on appearances, goals, assist and club results. 

Markovic's agent, Nikola Damjanac, also participates in the deal.

The Serbian agent was authorised to receive a total of 1.37 million Euro “on behalf of the player”.

Managing Director Ian Ayre and Club Secretary Stuart Hayton signed the contract on the part of Liverpool.

At the end of the document, Damjanac is named as the "player's representative'.

But he is also, underneath, named as the "club representative" alongside Pietro Chiodi, a little-known Italian agent active in the Romanian market. 



So Damjanac - a member of Zahavi's network - was representing both club and player.

But that is not all.


3. Cashing in on image rights

Liverpool is also paying over half a million pounds every year to the owner of the image rights of Lazar Markovic, Lanigan Management Ltd.

The 'image rights' is the money a player receives for the use of his name, signature and presence in commercial deals, such as sponsorhips and endorsements.

Over five years this deal is worth 2.9 million GBP (around 3.6 million Euro at the time)



Lanigan Management Limited is based at the address 116/8 St. George’s Road, St. Julians STJ 3203, Malta.

According to Lian Sports website, Lanigan Management Limited is the company that runs the agency's business.


Therefore on one player, Zahavi’s group has cashed in the following (approximately):


- 12.5 million Euro transfer income payable through a TPO to a British Virgins Island offshore

- 1.37 million Euro as an agent for both sides to a Maltese offshore

- 3.6 million Euro through an image rights deal with Liverpool to a Maltese offshore


Interestingly, in the agreement between Liverpool and Leiston, the BVI company warrants to the English club that:

“it has not agreed, and it will not agree to pay directly or indirectly to, or to the order or benefit of, the Player, any agent, any current director or employee of LFC, or any person or company connected with any such person, any part of any amount payable to it under this Agreement”.

A hilarious clause - as Zahavi has the reputation as one of football's premier superagents, and his clients include Barcelona attacking midfielder Javier Mascherano.


A more detailed version of this article is in Romanian on Gazeta Sporturilor


Challenges in assembling data from all EU member states on their foreign prison population for the Eurocrimes feature

Around 11,500 Romanians are in prison in the EU, compared to 28,000 at home - Jilava prison near Bucharest
An international team of journalists has made an estimate on the numbers of foriegn nationals in jail in EU prisons.
This is based on our own requests made to official bodies in every member state and the replies that we have received.

However each institution has its own method of compiling figures - as there is no agreed upon standard for drawing up lists of foreign prisoners across the EU.

Therefore our estimate is based on the closest possible approximation to a true figure that could be assembled from this information.

The real number could be higher or lower.

We would also like to stress that this is not a scientific or an academic exercise, nor is this a professional statistical inquiry. The writers are all professional journalists and all have experience writing on crime and prisons.

Therefore this is a work in progress, and in no way can be seen a definitive picture. We would invite discussion and dialogue on this issue, and contributions from all the official parties and watchdogs to see how we and statistics bodies can best assemble these numbers.


Issues in compiling data

A major challenge in compiling lists of foreign prisoners (and by prisoners we mean those in custody - which includes detainees and convicted criminals), is that the figures are constantly changing throughout the year.

We asked every member state to give us the prisoner population for the date 31 December for the years 2015, 2014 and 2013.

But not all could give the figures for this date. Also in the case of three countries (Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands), they were aware of the discrepancies in trying to make a true assessment of the situation by picking a single date, so decided to compile the data using the average figure for the year.

This is arguably a more accurate picture of the true situation, but not one rolled out across all EU member states.

Other countries gave us the data for the entire year, which will mean there is a margin of error in the final figures.

Some could not give the figures for both those in custody and those convicted with final sentences.

Therefore these figures are not consistent in their methodology of collection.

Despite these margins of error, we have several central claims that cannot be refuted. These are that the largest foreign prison populations in the EU, by a large distance, are Morocco and Romania. We can also state that the largest number of criminals in an EU country as a percentage of its expat population belongs to Lithuania.


Source documents for data by country

This information comes from the Ministry of Justice of Luxembourg for the 31 December for the year 2015 for the Central Penitenciary of Luxembourg.



This information comes from the state Ministry of Justice for 31 March of 2015, and includes convictions and pre-trial detentions. The 31 March for 2016 was not available yet.



The information comes from the Italian Ministry of Justice on foriegner prisoner population on 1 January 2016.



This information comes from the Portuguese justice administration revealing the detainees on 31 December 2015. 



This information is from the Swedish Prison and Probation Service, and includes all those prisoners enrolled in institutions on 1 October 2015.



This information is from the Ministry of Security and Justice in the Netherlands and is the average rate for the year. The authorities said they did not have the information for all nationalities incarcerated for 2015, which is why these statistics do not include Albania.



The information for 2015 is from the Prison Administration of Republic of Slovenia on the structure of foreign prisoners for each year.



The information is the foreign prisoner population per country from the annual reports of the Ministry of the Interior for the year 2015.



This is the average number of inmates in Danish prisons for the year 2015, supplied by the Danish Prison and Probation Service.



These are the individuals convicted in the Estonian prison system on 31 December 2015, from the Ministry of Justice.


England and Wales

This data is the foreign prison population 2015 in England and Wales, compiled after a freedom of information request.



This information is all non-nationals committed to custody in the year 2015, in the territory of Ireland, from the Irish Prison Service, following a Freedom of Information request.



This is the number of each nationality of the foreign prison population in Scotland recorded on the 31 December in 2015, from the Scottish Prison Service, following a Freedom of Information request.


Northern Ireland

This is the number of inmates on 31 December 2015 from the Northern Ireland Assembly, following a freedom of information request.



This is figures from the beginning of 2016, supplied by the Hungarian Prison Service Headquarters.



These are foreigners detained in detention centers and prisons on the 31 December 2015.



This is data from the 31 December for 2015, from the Prison department under the Ministry of Justice including detainees and convicts.



These are the numbers inside the prisons for convicted persons from the Latvian Prison Administration for 2015.



This information is from the Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights in Greece detailing the prison population on 1 December 2015.



These are the numbers for 1 May 2015, convicted and on remand in Finland, supplied by the Criminal Sanctions Agency.



These are all inmates in all forms of custody on 31 December 2015, supplied by the State Ministry of Justice.



These are the detained and convicted foreign nationals on 31 December 2015, supplied by the Corps of Prison and Judicial Guard (Slovak prison service).



This is the average daily population of Belgian prisons by nationality for 2015, from the Directorate-General for Penitentiary Institutions.



After requesting from the authorities, the French did not come back to us. This is the data from 1 September 2014 supplied by the MP Thierry Mariani, following a request.


Czech Republic

These are foreign nationals detained and sentenced in the Czech Republic on 31 December 2015, supplied by the Prison Service of the Czech Republic.



These are foreign nationals from 1 January 2016, supplied by the Ministry of Justice. We do not have non-EU prisoner statistics.



The information is from the National Prisons Authority (AMP) for the year 2015.


After repeated request Cyprus, Croatia and Malta did not supply us with the information.



A new cross-border investigation reveals massive disparities in the price of cancer medicines between each of the 28 EU member States - while in east Europe countless patients must cough up money for their own treatment

A cross-border investigation, by Cristian Niculescu, Eric Breitinger, Aleksandra Jolkina, Harry Karanikas, David Leloup, Dimitra Triantafillou and Stanimir Vaglenov, focusing on six European countries: Romania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Latvia and Switzerland.


Cancer patients in east Europe cannot afford newer drugs, because they are too expensive or unavailable in their own countries.

Meanwhile pharma distributors in the eastern EU cash in on a controversial system of re-exporting drugs destined for their domestic markets.

Multinational manufacturers of cancer drugs such as Roche and Novartis charge often equal or even higher prices for innovative drugs in poorer east European countries than in affluent western states, according to a report on the Linx/RCIJ website. 

The European Commission has launched a study into this phenomenon, but has not yet intervened in the pricing and reimbursing of life-saving drugs in the Union until now.

This report finds that in Romania, despite having a National Health service that provides affordable medical care for all registered citizens, the Government is not paying for all necessary cancer drugs. 

Many patients must borrow money or sell their properties to pay for their own treatment, even if they have contributed to the public system all their lives through a national insurance scheme.

But while the state lacks funds, corruption and controversial practices that manipulate free trade rules are rife across the pharma sector.


Drugs destined for Romania re-sold abroad

The small prices on some medicines in Romania set by the state means pharma products destined for the Romanian market end up in retailers in Germany, Denmark, Poland or any other EU country where they can sell for higher prices.

For example, Mabthera is an injectable onocology drug that treats lymphatic cancer, manufactured by Swiss pharma giant Roche. One ampoule in Romania costs around 1,330 Euro (6,000 RON).

Roche sells 500 of these to the leading Romanian pharma distributors - Mediplus, AD Pharma, Polisano, Farmexim and Farmexpert, according to industry sources. From this figure, 495 boxes go immediately to Germany - securing a minimum of a 15 per cent profit on the input price. A small fraction of this number remain in Romania for patients.

The big pharma players re-export a great number of the commodities received from the producers, by ignoring national regulations.

No one can prove this intra-community trade is taking place because the distributors “forget” to report the movements of products to the Romanian authorities, as required by law since 2013.

The lack of reporting opens the door to medication fraud, such as the secondary sale of products across borders. The huge profits to be made from pharma allow big distribution companies to corrupt doctors and eliminate independent competition.

The scheme works like this:

A pharma distributor offers cash to an oncologist. The oncologist writes out prescriptions for a patient to be bought from a branch of a pharmacy that belongs to the same distributor.

There is no patient present as the pharmacist enters the details of the prescriptions into the computer system.

Then the pharmacy invoices the state health insurance authority CNAS to reimburse them for the cost.

Meanwhile the drug itself stays on the shelf.

This means the distributor can export the product to another company or associate in its group.

Therefore the distributor can double its money - once in the reimbursement from the Romanian state - and again on the sale of the product for export.

The visible and dramatic effect is that the vital medicines become unavailable to patients, so many die. 

The investigation details a 67 year-old woman from Romania who saves her husband from prostate cancer. Cristina Achimoiu regularly travels 200 km by train to Bucharest to sell her handmade wool garments, and uses the money for her husband's treatment.

Cristina has a pension of 400 lei (around 85 Euro) per month, ten times less than the amount of medicines needed by the patient. A journalist posted on Facebook the story of Cristina that later received helped from a lot of Romanians, impressed by her sacrifice. But this is the exception.

Mioara Dumitrescu was 47 years old when she was diagnosed with brain cancer, in 2011. She published a letter attacking the health authorities who refused her Avastin treatment and she asked for the state to consider her a candidate for euthanasia.

The drug is not included on the list of free medicines the state can provide in Romania. Drugs like Avastin, Herceptin, Interferon, Zoladex or Tarceva are issued only after special or complicated approval protocols.

In 2012 Mioara Dumitrescu sued the state and won the trial with the state health insurance authority CNAS. After lengthy procedures, CNAS finally approved the 4,000 Euro per month needed for her treatment. This was too late, as Mioara died in 2013.


This is a cross-border investigation developed with support from 


They are against the EU, the ‘Islamisation’ of Europe and open borders. They don’t like to be called extremists. They want to be called radicals. They can command up to a third of the votes in their countries.

Last weekend they came to one of the most pro-EU countries in Europe - Romania.

Who are they and what did they say?

Marine Le Pen: praising Romanian Romantic verse after her father suggested Romanians were naturally inclined to steal (Picture; Michael Bird - MB)


Sinaia. Mountain resort and seat of the Romanian royal palace. In a packed conference hall of the lush 1912 casino, a cheering crowd watches dazzled in the dark as a giant screen flashes a countdown from ten to zero. A soundtrack of classical strings and electric guitars blasts out. The besuited crowd stands and claps in a staging resembling a product launch for a new home appliance. 

Then Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far right National Front, appears to give the keynote speech.

Nemesis of the European Union establishment, Le Pen is against NATO, against the EU and against the International Monetary Fund - the three international institutions arguably critical in securing Romania’s stability over the last 15 years.

Her presence seems out of place in a country where an ex-European Commissioner is now Prime Minister, an ethnic German is President and the country’s Anti-Corruption Department has locked up hundreds of the nation’s elite for bribery and fraud. Superficially, the country is a symbol of European Union values in action: transparency, technocracy and multiculturalism.

So what message can Le Pen and her nationalist colleagues in Europe’s Eurosceptic political family have for Romania?


Marine Le Pen: a “friend” of Romania

In 2013, Marine Le Pen’s father Jean Marie, the former leader of the National Front, was fined 5,000 Euro by a Paris Court for implying Romanians were “naturally” inclined to steal.

But his daughter’s first words to a Romanian audience in Sinaia are admiration for a figure she calls one of the world’s greatest poets - late 19th century Romantic Mihai Eminescu - a Romanian. 

She adds that “we know very well that not all Romanians or Roma are criminals” - not exactly an unqualified message of support for her hosts.

Members of her political movement in the European Parliament - the Europe of Nations and Liberty - have attacked Romanians in the past, but the group’s delegates here see a potential ally in the fight against the ‘Islamisation’ of Europe - and they are oozing charm. 

Geert Wilders, the firebrand president of the anti-EU Dutch Freedom Party, suggested in 2009 that Romania and Bulgaria should be chucked out of the EU, but his party’s representative at this conference, Markus De Graaff states: “We would love to do trade with Romania and let our economies grow together - for Bucharest [to be] a beautiful and prosperous city - as the Paris of the East again.” 

This receives cheers from the locals.

The movement is selling a vision where countries can freely trade with one another inside Europe, but each can decide its own economic path. The ideal is that independence means cash.

De Graaff adds: “We want to be in charge of our own country again - more freedom and prosperity - our Europe - a Europe of nations.”

His final words to the audience are in Romanian. They are taken from the national anthem.

“Viața-n libertate ori moarte!”

Life in liberty or death!


 “The EU should identify Islam as an anti-democratic and aggressive ideology,” Tomio Okamura, Czech Republic (picture: MB)


Europe is being “invaded” by Muslims

Founder of the Czech Republic’s Movement of Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) Tomio Okamura is a soft-spoken self-made entrepreneur with a dazzling back-story. 

From a Czech mother and a Japanese-Korean father, he is a former dustman, ex-popcorn seller, and a judge on the Czech version of reality TV show Dragon’s Den, where experts interrogate members of the public about their business ideas - then finance their dreams, or crush them. The 43 year-old has also written a book on Japanese cooking.

These are excerpts from his speech at the conference in Sinaia:

“We are at war. More and more [terrorist] attacks are being planned. Islamic radicals are being dispersed throughout the world and they begin to implement the next stage of the Islamic vision… The objective to conquer Europe remains… Muslim communities are a crucial security risk. It is important to create conditions where radical Muslims leave the country… Islam is incompatible with freedom and democracy and the European concept of human rights. The European Commission should analyze the Islamic ideology defining the points in which Islam is incompatible with European law and identify Islam as an anti-democratic and aggressive ideology.”

Another speaker, 59 year-old Johannes Huebner of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPO), adds that: “we have an invasion from the Islamic world - but also [from] the black African world - where 450 million people are waiting to migrate to Europe.”

Meanwhile his Dutch colleague Markus De Graaff states that, while recent refugees from crises in North Africa and the Middle East have gone to well-organised shelters, those others coming via illegal means to Europe are 'fortune seekers and Jihadists':“The first group drain our financial resources, driving up taxes and public expenditures and unemployment…the second group are Jihadists - the frontline of Islamic warriors. Their goal is to conquer Europe for Islam… and the first group support the second.”

As a caveat, Huebner - like many others in the conference - stresses that he is not against these people. “I can understand it,” he says. “If I was born in a slum in Freetown or Lagos or Kinshasa - I would love to come to Austria or Germany or Sweden or Bucharest or Sinaia - it is a good place.”

The message is that Muslims should stay in their own countries, Europe should end the Schengen space of free movement and each country should secure its own borders - and not let any more Muslims through.

On this issue, Marine Le Pen is careful. She has stated she is not against races, but against criminals and not anti-Islam, but against the Islamisation of Europe. She indirectly targets Islamic culture. For example, she calls the possibility of Turkey entering the EU “a disaster” and says Turkey’s attitude to Daesh (ISIS) is “more than suspect”. 

At the conference she does not accuse anyone in the EU of allowing the recent terrorist attacks in France and Belgium, but instead states “EU ideology played a criminal role”.


“We have an invasion from the Islamic world - but also [from] the black African world,” Johannes Huebner, Austrian Freedom Party (picture: MB)


Referendum: their strongest weapon

Europe’s far right has been energized by this month’s rejection in the Netherlands in a referendum on whether to allow the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement. 

This was seen as a victory for the country’s Eurosceptic and anti-Muslim Freedom Party, which opposed the deal - and a setback for Brussels. 

In June, Britain will vote on whether to leave or remain in the EU. A negative vote for Brussels could trigger a collapse of the European Union project.

Le Pen confirms that her group wants referendums in each state on whether to stick with the EU.

“I hope the French will not wait too long for a similar opportunity,” she says.

The talk is now of the Netherlands pushing for a referendum - a so-called Nexit, which could be followed by Denmark (Dexit) or Sweden (Swexit) - a pattern which becomes harder to maintain when the neologisms turn to countries beginning with a vowel - such as Italy and Austria.

Even if Brexit does not happen, the media attention this will bring will inspire other far right groups to push for such a plebiscite in their own countries.

But democracy is not a science. Sometimes voters simply cast a vote to reject a decision - regardless of its content - due to their own disaffection towards their own situation in life.

Whatever the public’s motivation, ‘referendums’ are a brilliant weapon for these parties, as they come with the justification of being the result of the will of the people. And the delegates here make this point again and again.


Message to the east: the EU is the USSR

Le Pen wants European nations to “take the destiny in their own hands and have a collaboration between Europeans”. She calls the European Union an “excellent failure that destroys hope and development”, and that its elite believes "treaties are more important than people".

Romania has over two million people working in the EU, is now seeing growth of 3.6 per cent, primarily due to trade and investment from the bloc, and its people still overwhelmingly support the EU and NATO. But Le Pen's message is: this is not enough.

“Romania is a big country with a high potential and deserves more,” she says.

She compares the EU to the USSR. The intention here is to convince Romania that they have moved from being at the mercy of one superstate only to find themselves under the influence of another. 

This view is backed by Janice Atkinson, a former-Conservative and UK Independence Party (UKIP) politician, who sends a message to the crowd arguing: “Romania has not shaken off the shackles of communism only to have them reimposed by the EU.” This is greeted by cheering.

But Atkinson’s own past includes targeting of Romanians for political gain. As a UKIP spokesperson, she sent out a press release in 2014 to constituents stating that "Ninety per cent of ATM [cash machine] crime is committed by Romanian gangs and drug and gun crime is mainly run by Eastern Europeans.”


“We are not the ones who plant bombs,” Romanian MEP Laurentiu Rebega (picture: MB)

Romanian MEP Laurentiu Rebega is quite a powerful speaker

This event is organised by 40 year-old Romanian MEP Laurentiu Rebega, a former member of the Conservative Party - a tiny political movement which uses its media influence to form coalitions with larger parties to get its members into powerful positions.

A former agricultural consultant and ex-vicepresident of the country council of Prahova, Rebega is now VP of the Europe of Nations and Freedom.

In a stirring speech, he reiterates the message - seemingly directed at the media - that: “We are not extremists… we are not the ones who plant bombs. They are not due to Laurentiu Rebega or Marine Le Pen.” 

Although his main argument seems to be ‘don’t call us extremist because we are not killing anyone’ he sends out a warning - that if forces in Europe try to eliminate his group, this will create a path for real right-wing extremists who will not respect the rule of law. 

Instead he argues that his fellow members are ‘radicals’.

Rebega has the impassioned diction, clear message and a few rhetorical flourishes - repetition, brevity, the constant switch between fear and hope - that are the oratorial arsenal of Le Pen herself. The French politician seems to have faith in him as an ambassador of the nationalist cause to the Romanian people. But right now he seems to be a one-man army.


This is not a mass movement in Romania - yet

The right in Romania is divided. There are many new parties with a mix of Christian, Anti-Islamic, Nationalistic, and anti-EU messages. Some overtly invoke the symbols and ideology of Romania’s 1930s Fascist party the Legionnaires, others just seize its platform with the usual carefree attitude the country’s elite has towards plagiarism.

Recently members of the country’s larger parties have adopted elements of far-right rhetoric in their own speeches, especially against Muslims. Senior politicians and intellectuals have warned that Syrian refugees and their ‘Islamic’ culture will threaten the Orthodox Christian values of Romania.

The Romanian organiser of this event - MEP Laurentiu Rebega - is an independent backed up by only a small political movement. The audience at the conference is not swarmed with admirers. They include a few Le Pen groupies, a couple who have come back to Romania from Canada because there “were too many Muslims there”, ex-soldiers and some kids who seem to be from the local high school. Their loyalty to the cause is not too evident. 

Outside the casino, when Marine Le Pen drives up in a mini motorcade, there are a hundred people - carrying just as many Romanian flags - who have been choreographed to form a crescent  to welcome her.

One teenager, his head shaved on both sides, is brandishing the flag of ‘Europe of the Nations’ - a blue eagle on a white background, but he is also wearing a sweatshirt with the word ‘CRMINAL!’ 

As the French MEP exits her car, there are a few shouts of “Marine! Marine!” 

But only about four or five. 

She is not mobbed.

This is not The Beatles at Shea Stadium.


 Le Pen overcome with awards from Romania, with academic Victor Craciun (picture: MB)


Romanians love giving awards to foreigners

When I was interviewing a European Ambassador to Romania in his Embassy many years ago, he led me to a corner of his office, and said: “And now I would like to show you my awards.”

On a table were dozens of framed diplomas, winged plastic statues, and thick brass medals, which he had received since heading up the mission.

But he was not bragging about his achievements. Instead - he was confused.

“I don’t understand,” he told me. “I can’t go anywhere in Romania, without someone giving me an award.” 

During this event, Le Pen becomes the target of this national trait.

At the climax, Romanian General Mircea Chelaru - who was last year condemned to a suspended sentence on corruption charges - and local academic Dr Victor Craciun present to Marine Le Pen a Doctorate Honoris Causa, the medal of Eminescu-Iorga, along with another award, and a plastic Romanian flag adorned with a Dacian wolf. The 80 year-old Craciun even cheekily plants a kiss on Le Pen’s face.

Although she is clearly overloaded, she doesn’t put any of the awards down - perhaps fearful she will offend someone. Then she drops a case on the floor and a medal skips across the stage. 

I feel sorry for her.



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