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Jan 23, 2003

Greek giants face relegation threat

ATHENS Jan 23 (Reuters) - The financial crisis in Greek soccer deepened on Thursday as two of the biggest teams in the country were threatened with relegation over transfer debts.

AEK Athens and PAOK Salonika were given 30 days to pay up or be docked six league points and if they fail to pay after that be dropped a division.

'In the instance that AEK (and PAOK) do not make the payment, after the docking of points, they will be relegated,' the Greek FA (EPO) said in a statement on Thursday.

PAOK are currently third in the table. AEK, who are still in the UEFA Cup, are fourth.

AEK have been ordered to pay Polish striker Gregorz Mielcarszki $350,000, while PAOK Salonika owe $542,000 to Yugoslav club FK Zeleznik over the transfer of midfielder Sladjan Spasic, according to FIFA.

Both teams have been fined 15,000 Swiss francs ($11,000) over the matter.

AEK's future is unclear after an Athens prosecutor pressed charges against the club's acting president for threatening behaviour in a January 14 incident with star striker Demis Nikolaidis.

In addition, senior players Nikolaidis and Vassilis Tsartas are appealing to the Greek FA to be released from their contracts, while a third player faces possible suspension over a failed drugs test.

State auditors investigating finances at the troubled club demanded $18 million in back taxes on Monday.

Earlier in the week, the government announced state auditors would conduct an investigation into all top flight clubs.

'Some professional clubs are not going to be able to survive,' Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos told reporters on Wednesday.

Junior finance minister George Floridis, who previously oversaw the portfolio for sport, has accused club owners of siphoning off money from the sport.

Greek soccer hit a financial crisis last September after the collapse of broadcasters Alpha Digital left the majority of the top clubs without a TV deal.

The government has pledged a full investigation into the whereabouts of tens of millions of dollars in broadcast rights paid to teams last year.

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