Fenerbahçe chairman Yıldırım questioned over match-fixing

Fenerbahçe chairman Yıldırım questioned over match-fixing

Yıldırım rested on the terrace of the courthouse before testifying to a prosecutor.

July 08, 2011, Friday/ 11:04:00

Aziz Yıldırım, chairman of Turkish league champion Fenerbahçe, was questioned by a specially authorized prosecutor about match-fixing allegations that have so far resulted in the arrests of 25 people, including officials as well as footballers from some other football clubs.

Before the questioning started at the Beşiktaş Courthouse in İstanbul, Yıldırım underwent a medical checkup at a nearby hospital. The Fenerbahçe chairman reportedly suffers from diabetes and underwent an angiography on Tuesday. He was detained on Sunday morning and has remained in police custody since then. Yıldırım was supposed to be interrogated by the police first, but he exercised his right to refuse to answer questions. “They want to sacrifice me, but if I speak everyone will get burnt,” broadcaster NTV Spor quoted him as telling people close to him. CNN Türk reported similar comments.

The chairman stands accused of establishing an armed criminal group and may be sentenced with up to 30 years in prison if found guilty. It was not immediately clear whether Yıldırım was arrested or released pending trial. No details were available about the content of his questioning by the time Today's Zaman went to print.

Earlier this week, Turkish police conducted raids on homes and club premises, detaining some 60 people suspected of manipulating games in the Turkish league last season.

Before the questioning started at the Beşiktaş Courthouse in İstanbul, Yıldırım underwent a medical checkup at a nearby hospital. The Fenerbahçe chairman reportedly suffers from diabetes and underwent an angiography on Tuesday. He was detained on Sunday morning and has remained in police custody since then. Yıldırım was supposed to be interrogated by the police first, but he exercised his right to refuse to answer questions. “They want to sacrifice me, but if I speak everyone will get burnt,” broadcaster NTV Spor quoted him as telling people close to him. CNN Türk reported similar comments.

The chairman stands accused of establishing an armed criminal group and may be sentenced with up to 30 years in prison if found guilty. It was not immediately clear whether Yıldırım was arrested or released pending trial. No details were available about the content of his questioning by the time Today's Zaman went to print.

Earlier this week, Turkish police conducted raids on homes and club premises, detaining some 60 people suspected of manipulating games in the Turkish league last season.

Police were reportedly investigating alleged match-fixing in the Spor Toto Super League, which ended in May with Fenerbahçe’s victory, as well as the Bank Asya League 1. Fenerbahçe may be stripped of its championship title and relegated from the Spor Toto Super League (first division) to the Bank Asya League 1 (second division) in accordance with the Law on the Prevention of Violence and Disorder in Sporting Events, sources claim. Sivasspor and Eskişehirspor may also be penalized accordingly.

Claims have emerged that Yıldırım was planning to flee to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) before the match-fixing operation was launched. According to claims, a police officer at the İstanbul Police Department leaked information about the planned operation to third parties, and Yıldırım learned about the plan. He ordered his men to book plane tickets for the KKTC for Monday morning. Aware of Yıldırım’s plan to leave Turkey, the prosecutor handling the investigation, Mehmet Berk, ordered İstanbul police to launch the match-fixing operation on Sunday morning, which was indeed scheduled for Monday.

The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) is expected to act soon in response to the match-fixing allegations without waiting for the outcome of the investigation. Among the possible sanctions are exclusion from competitions, relegation to a lower division and the potential loss of tens of millions of dollars in income. Any individuals convicted of match-fixing could face lengthy prison sentences. European soccer’s governing body the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has set a deadline of July 15 for confirmation of the team taking part in the third Champions League qualifying round. Trabzonspor would normally take that place as runners-up.

There are reportedly two major gangs rigging football games in Turkey. One of the gangs is being headed by former Giresunspor chairman, Olgun Peker, and the other is being headed by Yıldırım.

Match-fixing suspects ask to benefit from repentance law

Since the release of some of match-fixing suspects who were detained earlier this week, rumors emerged that they were set free after they made confessions to the prosecutor about rigging in football games and asked to benefit from the active repentance law.

The law applies to suspects who are accused of membership in organized criminal groups and agree to cooperate with security forces or judicial bodies for the collapse of those groups.

According to rumors, some footballers accused officials of their football clubs of engaging in match-fixing.

In the meantime, the lawyer for Fenerbahçe Chairman Yıldırım filed a complaint against the prosecutor involved in the match-fixing investigation at the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). He also filed a petition to Parliament for the establishment of a parliamentary commission to investigate claims of match-fixing in Turkish football.

Earlier this week, the İstanbul Police Department issued a statement and declared that investigators had obtained evidence of cheating and bribery involving 19 first and second-division games. The games were mainly the ones played by Fenerbahçe, Beşiktaş, Kayserispor, Manisaspor, Bursaspor, İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor, Gençler Birliği, Konyaspor, Trabzonspor, Eskişehir, Sivasspor, Ankaragücü and Bucaspor. Police also stated they had seized eight unlicensed guns during the operation and had evidence that some players were threatened into forfeiting money owed to them.

Shares plunge

Shares in Fenerbahçe, who won the league for a record 18th time last season, have lost a third of their value since news of the police investigation emerged. Fenerbahçe has denied involvement in any wrongdoing. Trabzonspor, last season’s runner-up, have seen their shares surge some 40 percent in the last three days on speculations that the league title could be awarded to them.

Prime Minister Erdoğan, a Fenerbahçe fan, has called for a rapid and just outcome to the investigation, saying the affair is tainting the country’s image internationally. Those already jailed pending trial include three Fenerbahçe executives, the chairman of Sivasspor, the coach of Eskişehirspor, Sivasspor’s goalkeeper and the former chairmen of Diyarbakırspor and Giresunspor.

Turkish media have cited allegations in police reports such as a striker being offered money to not score in a game, a goalkeeper deliberately failing to prevent a goal and a club requesting a particular referee for a key derby.

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