Fenerbahce president gets 6 years in prison over match-fixing

A Turkish court on Monday convicted and sentenced Fenerbahce president Aziz Yildirim to 6 years and 3 months in prison on match-fixing charges along with several other club officials.
Fenerbahce supporters gather outside a Turkish court house in support of 93 suspects, including Aziz Yildirim, during a hearing in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, Feb. 20, 2012. (AP Photo)

A Turkish court on Monday convicted and sentenced Fenerbahce president Aziz Yildirim to 6 years and 3 months in prison on match-fixing charges along with several other club officials.

The court ruling came one year after police rounded up dozens of suspects implicated in the scandal and prosecutors eventually charged 93 individuals, including Yildirim. Fenerbahce was barred from last season's Champions League as a result of the investigation. UEFA said last week that Fenerbahce was eligible to participate in next season's competition, pending a final decision by the UEFA disciplinary board.

Match-fixing scandals have tarnished leagues in Turkey, Italy, Israel, Finland and Greece last year despite UEFA spending millions of euros (dollars) to monitor betting and investigate cases in which players and referees were allegedly bribed.

The court on Monday found Yildirim — who was among the last four suspects still in jail — guilty of rigging six games and offering incentive payments to players and or club officials. Yildirim, who has denied any wrongdoing, was accused of match-fixing and establishing a crime ring according to the indictment, which includes records of wiretapped conversations between the suspects who allegedly exchanged encoded messages.

However, the court released Yildirim and three other suspects after considering the time they have already spent in jail over the past year. Turkish law allows the court to free suspects after they serve a certain portion of their sentences. Yildirim and others were jailed one year ago.

Yildirim and other defendants were expected to appeal the verdict. They might return to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence if an appeals court upholds their convictions.

The court said Yildirim, who was recently re-elected as president, can no longer serve as a club official or even watch sporting events at stadiums but both sanctions require approval by the appeals court to go into effect. Yildirim was also ordered to pay a fine of $729,000.

In December, Turkey's Parliament approved a sharp reduction in prison terms for match-fixing and hooliganism, a move that led to lighter sentences for any suspects found guilty in the match-fixing scandal.

After the trial, a few thousands of Fenerbahce fans gathered outside Istanbul's Metris prison to celebrate Yildirim's release, waving yellow and blue Fenerbahce flags and chanting slogans in support of their president.

The court also convicted several officials from Besiktas, Eskisehirspor, Sivasspor, Giresunspor and Diyarbakirspor. Among them were former Giresunspor President Olgun Peker who was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison and Fenerbahce official Ilhan Yuksel Eksioglu, who received a 15-month sentence. Peker and Eksioglu were also ordered to be released from prison.

Monday's ruling came two months after the Turkish football federation cleared all 16 Turkish teams of involvement in the alleged match-fixing scandal on grounds that there was no evidence that alleged attempts to fix games had altered the course of 22 matches tainted by the allegations.

The federation had banned striker Ibrahim Akin of Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyesi for three years for allegedly fixing the result of a game when his team lost to Fenerbahce 2-0 on May 1, 2011 and Serdar Kulbilge of Genclerbirligi for two years for allegedly attempting to fix the result of a game that Fenerbahce won 4-2.

Fenerbahce went unbeaten through the second half of the season that year and beat Trabzonspor to the title on goal difference. Fenerbahce shares on Istanbul's main stock exchange dropped by around 22 per cent over the past year.