x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

New Turkish law cuts sentences for football match-fixing

Turkey's president has reluctantly approved a bill slashing sentences for football match-fixing, while 93 people are awaiting trial for involvement in the biggest such scandal the country has seen.

ISTANBUL // Turkey's president has reluctantly approved a bill slashing sentences for football match-fixing, while 93 people are awaiting trial for involvement in the biggest such scandal the country has seen.

Abdullah Gul originally blocked the bill, saying society's trust of justice would be shaken.

But after parliament passed it again last weekend, he abandoned his opposition.

"It's not a constitutional situation," he said this week.

On Monday, a court in Istanbul freed eight more suspects in the scandal from pretrial detention.

They included Tayfur Havutcu, the manager of Besiktas Istanbul, one of the most revered clubs in Turkey; Serdar Adali, a high-ranking Besiktas official; and Umit Karan, a former player of the national team.

"Our joy is endless," Yildirim Demironen, the president of Besiktas, who is not among the suspects, told the DHA news agency.

Prosecutors say the eight, arrested during in July, belong to a group of 93 people involved in irregularities in the 2010/2011 football season. Their release, along with others earlier, leaves 23 suspects still in custody.

Among them is Aziz Yildirim, president of Fenerbahce Istanbul, the ruling champions.

Police said Mr Yildirim, a wealthy businessman, was a central figure in a scheme involving bribes to secure favourable results for Fenerbahce and other top clubs.

The prosecution, whose case rests primarily on phone taps and has been based on the old match-fixing law, is asking for up to 147 years in prison for Mr Yildirim alone. The trial is due to start in February.

As the new law will be active, the trial will follow the new regulations even though they were not in force when the investigation took place, because of a principle that the law most beneficial for the accused must be followed.

Mr Yildirim, whose appeal to be released from custody was rejected, has denied the accusations.

In a statement, his lawyers said that prosecutors mistook conversations about projects to improve sports facilities for Fenerbahce as coded messages about bribes.

In April, the parliament passed a bill including strict prison sentences to boost the fight against corruption in sports. Mr Gul approved it.

But after Mr Yildirim and other prominent people were arrested in the match-fixing scandal, parliament changed the law last month, reducing possible sentences.

The move, supported by the three biggest parties, has been criticised as an effort get high-ranking club officials out of prison to avoid the anger of millions of fans of Fenerbahce, Besiktas and other teams.

Six other clubs have also been involved in match-fixing, the prosecution claims.

"There is an impression among the public that this has been an initiative to rescue a few individuals," said Beril Dedeoglu, a political scientist in Istanbul.

Samil Tayyar, a lawmaker from the ruling Justice and Development Party, and the most outspoken critic of the softer sentences in parliament, accused the leadership of his party of pressuring members of parliament to pass the bill.

"If there had been no party discipline and a secret vote, this bill would not have passed," Mr Tayyar told the Taraf newspaper on Monday.

Mr Tayyar said the reduction of sentences had been made just to save Mr Yildirim, because of his popularity and his connections as a successful businessman.

Under the new law, the Fenerbahce president is now facing nine years at the most, Mr Tayyar said.

Mr Yildirim could not be reached for a comment.

 

tseibert@thenational.ae