Key names take the stage as landmark rigging case begins

Key names take the stage as landmark rigging case begins

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Key names take the stage as landmark rigging case begins

Fenerbahçe Chairman Aziz Yıldırım (R) says it is ‘a consolation’ that the first hearing of the match-fixing case coincides with Valentine’s Day. Yıldırım has been in jail pending trial since early July last year. REUTERS photo

Some of the top names in Turkish football will face judges today as the landmark match-fixing case begins in Istanbul’s Silivri Courthouse.

A total of 93 football officials, players and coaches have been named as suspects in the case, 23 of whom are currently in jail pending trial.

The hearing will start with the reading of the 400-page indictment by speakers from the state-run TRT and will see some key names present their defense in what is seen as a pivotal case in football. The case focuses on several matches from Spor Toto Super League and Bank Asya League One, the top two Turkish football leagues, with suspicion of manipulation. The indictment also alleges football officials’ ties with mafia leaders and forming crime organizations to attempt manipulation of games.

The case became public July 3, 2011, with the detentions of several high-profile names, including Fenerbahçe Chairman Aziz Yıldırım, arguably the most influential man in Turkish football.

Yıldırım, who has been in Istanbul’s Metris Prison since early July last year, released an emotional statement yesterday, pointing out the hearing’s date coincided with Valentine’s Day.

“Since July 3, what has been done to Fenerbahçe, our one and only love, has been well documented,” Yıldırım said. “But it is a consolation that with a twist of fate and coincidence, my reunion with Fenerbahçe will happen on Valentine’s Day.”

It had been expected that several fans, especially supporters of Fenerbahçe, would attend the hearing. However, court head Mehmet Ekinci ruled this out, saying “individuals, not teams would be tried […] no fans will be allowed in the courtroom.”

But that did not stop Fenerbahçe fans from going to Silivri yesterday. Supporters are expected to remain outside the courthouse throughout the week during the hearings.

Alleged rigging
The case also questioned several of Fenerbahçe’s matches from last season when the club won the league. Runner-up Trabzonspor, Ziraat Turkish Cup winner Beşiktaş, cup finalist Istanbul BB, along with Sivasspor, Eskişehirspor, Mersin İdman Yurdu and Giresunspor had some officials and players listed as suspects in the indictment as well.

The hearing will mark an important milestone in the case, the legal process of which continued both on judiciary and football sanctioning process. Fenerbahçe was barred from playing in the Champions League after a decision by the Turkish Football Federation, while former Chairman Mehmet Ali Aydınlar claimed Beşiktaş and Trabzonspor, who are still continuing in the Europa League, risk being reprimanded by UEFA if they are found guilty.

The case’s indictment mainly focuses on former Giresunspor Chairman Olgun Peker, an alleged mobster who has worked as an agent for players. It is reported Peker stole questions for the license of a player agency, threatened a former Giresunspor chairman and used his influence to intimidate several figures in Turkish football in order to manipulate matches.

Olgun Peker, named the No. 1 suspect, identifies himself as the godchild of jailed mafia leader Sedat Peker, whose name is in the indictment for allegedly manipulating a match between Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş in 2004 in favor of the former.

According to the indictment, suspect No. 2, Yıldırım, supposedly worked with Peker to manipulate his team’s games.

“We have been waiting to meet you again for eight months. The attitude toward us was not shown to anyone, neither to those who betrayed the country nor to those who shed bullets to the people or the state,” Yıldırım’s statement read. “The public watched when they charged us with baseless claims and when they abused our essential rights. Now it is their turn to remain silent. I fully believe in the independent courts of the Turkish Republic.”