Five people, including the deputy chairman and coach of the Beşiktaş sports club, were arrested early on Thursday as part of a widening nationwide match-fixing investigation that has plunged preparations for the new Turkish football season into chaos less than a month before kickoff.
Seven additional suspects in the investigation were taken to a courthouse in İstanbul for questioning by a prosecutor over claims that they were rigging football games. The newly arrested suspects, including Beşiktaş Deputy Chairman Serdar Adalı and club coach Tayfur Havutçu, were called to testify over match-fixing claims on Tuesday. The other three under arrest are Beşiktaş's security chief Ahmet Ateş and İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor players İbrahim Akın and İskender Alın. Specially authorized public prosecutor Mehmet Berk, who is handling the investigation, questioned the suspects and referred them to a court for arrest late on Wednesday. On Thursday seven more suspects were sent to the Beşiktaş Courthouse for interrogation by prosecutor Berk. The suspects include former Turkish Football Federation (TFF) official Levent Kızıl, Konyaspor coach Yılmaz Vural, Ankaragücü goalkeeper Serdar Kulbilge, former Ankaragücü administrator Mümtaz Karakaya and businessman Zeki Mazlum.
Vural, Kızıl and Karakaya were released after they were questioned by the prosecutor. It was not immediately clear whether the other suspects were referred to a court for arrest or set free. Last week, Turkish police conducted raids on homes and football club premises, detaining some 60 people suspected of fixing football matches last season in two of the Turkish leagues. Police are reportedly investigating claims of alleged match-fixing in the Spor Toto Super League, which ended in May with Fenerbahçe winning the trophy, as well as the Bank Asya League 1.
Many high-ranking football officials, including Fenerbahçe Chairman Aziz Yıldırım, two other club administrators and some footballers, have been arrested on charges of fraud and rigging football games. The second wave of the investigation came on Monday and resulted in the detention of more football higher-ups. The number of match-fixing suspects under arrest is 32.
The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) said it will not launch its own investigation into match-fixing allegations until the indictment is prepared, effectively confirming Fenerbahçe as Turkish league champion and allowing it to take its place in the lucrative Champions League next season. Fenerbahçe won the league for a record 18th time last season. It and second-placed Trabzonspor have qualified for the Champions League. European football’s governing body, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), said on Tuesday that at this stage it has no reason based on evidence to ban any of the Turkish clubs from European competitions. If found guilty, possible sanctions against Fenerbahçe may include the loss of the championship title, exclusion from European competitions, relegation to a lower division and potentially the loss of tens of millions of dollars in income. Any individual convicted of match-fixing could face lengthy prison sentences.
TFF President Mehmet Ali Aydınlar visited the Beşiktaş Courthouse on Thursday and was briefed by prosecutor Berk about the course of the investigation. After the briefing, Aydınlar spoke to reporters and said the prosecutor would provide the TFF with documents and evidence of match-fixing once the investigation is complete.
Professor Oğuz Atalay, the head of the TFF ethics committee, also spoke about match-fixing claims and said Turkish football would “emerge from the investigation clean.” He said a five-member team has been assigned by the committee to investigate the claims. “Everybody is now talking about match-fixing claims. We have a considerable burden and responsibility on our shoulders. We are aware of it. We will do what the law requires. We will emerge from this [investigation] clean,” he noted.
In the meantime, Beşiktaş President Yıldırım Demirören announced that his club would return the Ziraat Turkish Cup the team won in May to the TFF until its officials are acquitted of the charges leveled against them. The announcement came after an hours-long meeting at the club building. The jailed Beşiktaş officials are suspected of having rigged the Beşiktaş-İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor match that won the team the cup. Beşiktaş beat İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor 4-3 on penalties, after their match in the 49th Ziraat Turkish Cup final ended 2-2 at full time and extra time.
Footballers confess to receiving bribes
Two İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor footballers, Akın and Alın, confessed to having received bribes from Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş in exchange for “playing badly” against the two clubs, according to some Turkish newspapers. The confessions reportedly came during their questioning by prosecutor Berk.
According to news reports, Akın told the prosecutor that he received $150,000 and a racehorse from Fenerbahçe and in return, he agreed to play poorly and not score goals against his rival during a game between Fenerbahçe and İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor. In addition, Alın reportedly told the prosecutor that Fenerbahçe gave him $100,000 before a football game, and Beşiktaş pledged to offer him a position with their club if he agreed not to score any goals during a Beşiktaş-İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor match. The lawyer for the two footballers, however, denied the reports, and said his clients did not make any confessions of match-fixing or bribery.