Yıldırım promises to tell all
Fenerbahçe fans carry a banner reading ‘We are right, we will win’ along with pictures of the club members charged with alleged involvement in match-fixing outside the Çağlayan Courthouse in this photo from Feb 14. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜRELAll eyes will be on Aziz Yıldırım today as the Fenerbahçe chairman presents his defense in the landmark football match-fixing hearing today.
A total of 93 football officials, players and coaches, 16 of whom are jailed pending trial, are listed as suspects, but the focus is largely on Yıldırım, arguably the most powerful man in Turkish football.
Yıldırım, listed as the number two suspect, is charged with allegedly forming a crime organization and manipulating several games, which led to the Fenerbahçe’s 18th league championship last season.
There are suspects from at least eight clubs, including Super League runner-up Trabzonspor and last season’s Turkish Cup winner Beşiktaş, but the case has been centered on Fenerbahçe, resulting in quite a reaction from Yıldırım and the club’s fans.
In a hearing earlier this week, Yıldırım claimed that he should not be the only focus of the case. “This case is not about cleansing football,” the daily Radikal quoted him as saying. “If it were just about that, the whole football world would be here, not just me. Where are the Trabzonspor officials? … Incentives were offered to other clubs as well, according to the indictment.”
Judge Mehmet Ekinci replied to this saying that Trabzonspor officials would also testify at the courthouse, to which Yıldırım, who has been jailed since early July, responded, “What difference does it make, if they come here two months later?”
Yıldırım claimed that this case was just about him, and said that he would prove Trabzon officials were aware that Fener board members were being wiretapped all along.
Most Fenerbahçe fans share Yıldırım’s views, claiming that the case was only opened to dethrone Yıldırım, in an attempt to take over the most coveted seat in Turkish football. They have said the evidence in the case is not convincing, and that it is another attempt by Fethullah Gülen’s religious community to take over the football scene, just as it has purportedly seized the state’s other key institutions. That view was echoed at one of many street protests held by Fenerbahçe fans, when they gathered outside the Çağlayan Courthouse last month for the first round of the hearings. “The [Gülen] Community can’t cope with Fener,” read a banner, which was widely shared via social networking sites.
Yıldırım’s statements to journalists during a break in the hearing on Feb. 14 were similar. “They say it was match fixing. What match fixing?” Yıldırım said. “The country is getting out of hand, but all they talk about is match fixing.”
A similarly stadium-like atmosphere is expected over the next two days, but especially tomorrow, when Ekinci is expected to consider the suspects’ lawyers’ demands for acquittal. Two Fenerbahçe officials were released pending charges after the first round of hearings last month, but Fenerbahçe fans were angered by the decision to keep Yıldırım, along with two other Fener officials, in jail.