ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s Parliament approved a sharp reduction in prison terms for match-fixing and hooliganism early Saturday, a move that will lead to lighter sentences for any suspects found guilty in a recent match-fixing scandal.
The Parliament voted for the new reduced term of a maximum three years in prison, overriding a veto by President Abdullah Gul who argued that the amendments were giving “the impression of a special arrangement” to save suspects including Fenerbahce President Aziz Yildirim.
Match-fixing scandals have tarnished leagues in Turkey, Italy, Israel, Finland and Greece this year despite UEFA spending millions of euros (dollars) to monitor betting and investigate cases. Chris Eaton, security chief of FIFA, said in October that there was mounting evidence that international and club matches are being targeted by gangs who attempt to bribe players and referees.
League champion Fenerbahce was barred from the Champions League this season because of its involvement in the match-fixing scandal and it could be stripped of its domestic title and face relegation. The Turkish Football Federation said it would announce sanctions against clubs implicated in the scandal at the end of this season.
Nihat Ozdemir, deputy president of Fenerbahce, asked the federation President Mehmet Ali Aydinlar on Friday to end relegation altogether, Hurriyet newspaper reported on Saturday.
Fenerbahce went unbeaten through the second half of the season and beat Trabzonspor to the title on goal difference. Officials with Trabzonspor, which replaced Fenerbahce in the Champions League, have also been implicated along with officials or players from several other clubs.
Yildirim, who has denied any wrongdoing, faces charges of establishing a crime-ring and match-fixing, the indictment said. He now faces a total of maximum 75 years in prison if convicted. And Fenerbahce risks having its name tarnished like Italian club Juventus, which was stripped of its 2005 and 2006 Italian league titles.
Abdullah Kaya, a lawyer for Yildirim, said the charges against his client were “unfounded,” the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Parliament first voted for changes to prison terms earlier this month, only eight months after it approved sentences of up to 12 years for anyone convicted of rigging games. The amendments were passed hours after prosecutors announced details of charges against 93 suspects in an indictment. The indictment included records of wiretapped conversations between the suspects who allegedly exchanged encoded messages.
In a speech before the vote in Parliament, Sports Minister Suat Kilic rejected public criticism that political parties were under intense pressure from the clubs to reduce the prison terms for match-fixing. Kilic, however, confirmed that he received a letter signed by 18 club presidents who said they would like to see the legislation changed.
Officials or players from a total of eight Turkish clubs were implicated in the scandal. The indictment accused some suspects of bribing rival teams’ players to play badly, or not play at all and coercing referees to make favorable decisions.
In one specific claim, Yildirim is accused of ordering his aides to pay €100,000 ($134,000) to Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyespor player Ibrahim Akin ahead of a match in May, the indictment said.
Former Fenerbahce forward Emmanuel Emenike of Nigeria, who was detained and then released without charge in July, is among 14 players charged over alleged match-fixing attempts.
Emenike left Turkey following his release and joined Spartak Moscow without playing a game for Fenerbahce.
Emenike, who then played for Karabukspor, was reportedly promised a transfer to Fenerbahce in return for not playing in a match against the team — an allegation Karabukspor has denied. The club said Emenike was injured a week before the game and has a doctor’s certificate to prove it.
It was not clear what punishment the suspects face if convicted. Yildirim and 30 others, including former Giresunspor president Olgun Peker, remain in jail. The indictment described Peker and Yildirim as the ring leaders in a broad match-fixing scheme. The suspects will go on trial on Feb. 14.
The Parliament also reduced prison terms for fans who dismantle seats, chant racial slurs and obscenities or spectators who attempt to bring guns, sharp objects or flares to sports events.
The Turkish football league is frequently marred by crowd trouble, with fans lighting flares, throwing objects and yelling obscenities to taunt opposition teams and referees.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.