Dozens of leading
Turkish football officials, including the chairman of champions
Fenerbahce, faced judges on Tuesday at the start of a
match-fixing trial which has plunged the country's
multi-billion-dollar league into chaos.
The trial begins two weeks after the resignation of the
Turkish Football Federation (TFF) chairman and his two deputies
over the TFF's failure to agree on how to punish clubs caught up
in the scandal.
European football's ruling body UEFA will watch proceedings
closely, having increased pressure on the federation to act.
Sanctions against clubs could include relegation.
However, the court case concerned only individuals, judge
Mehmet Ekinci told the court room, saying: "It's not the teams
or Turkish sports we are judging here."
Fenerbahce Chairman Aziz Yildirim, the most high-profile of
the 93 officials and players charged in the case, waved to
spectators in the court at Silivri, 70 km west of Istanbul.
The town has become synonymous with Turkey's murky
underbelly as generals and journalists accused of plotting coups
are being held at the high-security prison there.
Outside the court, some 2,000 Fenerbahce fans chanted in
support of their club's chairman. A tent was set up to serve
tea, coffee and soup to them.
"We are right, we will win," they chanted. Fans from
Sivasspor and Orduspor were also evident among the crowd.
"Our love is not just for February 14, it will last for
ever," said a Fenerbahce banner, alluding to Valentine's Day.
The chairman of Fenerbahce, a club whose most famous fan is
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, gave an indignant response when a
judge asked him whether he had any past convictions.
"No criminal record until coming here," said Yildirim,
wearing a blue suit and a tie in Fenerbahce's blue-and-yellow
colours. He looked through documents and talked with his lawyers
in the front row of the defendants' section.
The scandal erupted last July when police raids led to the
detention of dozens of people including Yildirim. The indictment
issued in December charged Yildirim with being a gang leader,
among charges ranging from match-fixing to paying bribes.
The first four days of the case were set to be taken up by
the reading of the 400-page indictment which refers to 13
matches, including Fenerbahce's 4-3 victory over Sivasspor which
allowed them to clinch the league championship on the final day
of last season.
The federation excluded Fenerbahce from this season's
Champions League, with runners-up Trabzonspor taking their
place, in an initial move after the investigation started.
However, clubs have failed to agree on other disciplinary
TFF Chairman Mehmet Ali Aydinlar, who became chairman only
days before the match-fixing scandal broke, resigned soon after
Turkish clubs rejected a proposal to penalise clubs with a
minimum 12-point deduction, but spare them from possible
Media reports say Aydinlar will soon seek re-election.
Despite being at the heart of the investigation, Fenerbahce
led opposition to the softening of punishments and said the TFF
needed to wait for completion of the legal process before
UEFA has said the federation cannot wait and has left open
the possibility of excluding clubs from European competitions.
The indictment names eight clubs, including Fenerbahce,
Besiktas and Trabzonspor, who are in the Europa League. Fourteen
players are among the defendants.
One allegation in the indictment is that Yildirim ordered
his aides to pay 100,000 euros to Istanbul Buyuksehir
Belediyesi player Ibrahim Akin ahead of a match in May 2011.
"They say I paid Ibrahim Akin 100,000 euro. From which
account? Let them prove that and I'll jump off a bridge," media
reports quotes Yildirim as saying during a court break.
The other main suspect is Olgun Peker, an
ex-president of club Giresunspor. One of the TFF deputy chairmen
who resigned in January, Goksel Gumusdag, is among the
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