Fenerbahçe boss defiant over jail term on return to Turkey

Fenerbahçe boss defiant over jail term on return to Turkey

ISTANBUL - Agence France-Presse
Fenerbahçe boss defiant over jail term on return to Turkey

Aziz Yıldırım waves fans on January 21, 2014 upon his arrival at Sabiha Gökçen Airport in Istanbul. AFP Photo

The head of Turkish football giant Fenerbahçe returned home in defiant mood just days after a court ruling upheld a jail term against him for match-fixing.

About 5,000 supporters, wearing the blue and yellow Fenerbahçe colours, massed alongside several club players outside an Istanbul airport to greeted Aziz Yıldırım as he arrived back in Turkey late Tuesday.

"Fenerbahçe is a stronghold and we will not surrender," the 61-year-old Yıldırım declared to the cheers of the crowd.

Turkey's Supreme Court of Appeals on Friday confirmed a prison term of six years and three months against Yıldırım as well as sentences against several other Fenerbahçe officials.

The ruling also bars Yıldırım and all others convicted in the case that rocked the country's domestic football league from serving as club officials.

Yıldırım said at the weekend he would not recognize the "political" ruling and suggested it was linked to a wide-ranging corruption probe engulfing the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

His lawyers on Monday appealed for a "correction" to the decision.

Yıldırım was first sentenced to jail in 2012 and fined 1.3 million lira (580,000 dollars) for match-fixing during the 2010-2011 season and of forming a criminal gang.

He served about a year behind bars before being freed pending his appeal.

In all, 93 people were originally convicted in the case and European football's governing body UEFA barred Fenerbahçe from the Champions' League for two seasons as a result of its investigation.

Erdoğan appeared to back up Yıldırım 's claims, saying he found the timing of the supreme court ruling "meaningful".

"Why had such a verdict not been delivered so far? Why was such a verdict delivered ahead of elections? You could have done it after March 30," he said on Monday, referring to the date of local polls.

He accused what he described as the "parallel structure within the judiciary" of instigating the ruling -- referring to supporters of an exiled Islamic cleric he charges is trying to topple his government.

The match-fixing probe was launched by Zekeriya Öz, one of the prosecutors involved in the graft investigation targeting key Erdoğan allies and who has since been reassigned in a mass purge of police and the judiciary by the government.

Yıldırım , a former professional footballer, became head of Fenerbahçe in 1998 and was reelected to the post only in November last year despite the scandal.

Fenerbahçe, which was founded almost a century ago, also runs a variety of other sports including basketball, volleyball, table tennis, boxing and sailing.