Turkish soccer chief guilty, but free

Chairman of Turkey’s most popular soccer team found guilty in match-fixing, but he was released the same day he was sentenced

By Justin Vela

Fenerbahce soccer fans rally in support of club chairman Aziz Yildirim, pictured, outside an Istanbul courthouse in February. (Reuters/Osman Orsal)

Turkey’s soccer match-fixing scandal has seen a surprising twist.

Aziz Yildirim, the chairman of Turkey’s most popular soccer team, Istanbul’s Fenerbahce, was sentenced Tuesday along with 47 others implicated in the scandal, Hurriyet Daily News reported. Yildirim was then immediately set free because of time served.

Yildirim’s case has a U.S. connection. Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who gained political asylum in the U.S. in the late 1990s and currently lives in rural Pennsylvania, is regularly accused by Fenerbahce supporters of masterminding Yildirim’s imprisonment, as Latitude News reported recently.

Yildirim is a close ally of Turkey’s military, a secular force in Turkish society. Gulen supporters, meanwhile, are loosely allied with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who wants to curb the military’s standing in civilian life while granting Islam more sway.

One year after he was arrested, Yildirim was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison on charges of organizing a gang to commit crime and match fixing. He was also fined $725,000 and banned from being a club official or even watching games.

However, he was released the same day he was sentenced, along with three other suspects. Cheering Fenerbahce supporters met him outside the courthouse. Turkish law allows courts to free suspects if they have served a portion of their sentences.

Yildirim is expected to appeal the sentence against him.

“Today we are being tried, but you are also being tried in front of history. I trust the Turkish judges and prosecutors. I hope you have made the right decision,” Yildirim told the court before the verdict was read, Hurriyet reported.

He ended his statement with Fenerbahce’s motto: “That I said on the first day and I will say on the last day: ‘Even standing at the gallows, our final word will be ‘Fenerbahce.’”

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