Thousands of Fenerbahçe fans shouted slogans outside a Turkish court house in support of 93 suspects, including the club's jailed president, as the opening hearing into their match-fixing case began Tuesday.
Fenerbahçe President Aziz Yıldırım and 92 others have been charged in the scandal allegedly involving 19 league matches last season. They are scheduled to appear before the court near Istanbul.
League champion Fenerbahçe was barred from the Champions League because of its involvement in the match-fixing scandal and it could be stripped of its domestic title and face relegation. 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 government might collapse, (chronic) inflation might go down but Fenerbahçe can never be relegated," Fenerbahçe fans shouted outside the court house in the town of Silivri, near Istanbul.
The head of the Turkish Football Federation and two of his deputies resigned last month following a controversy on how to deal with teams implicated in match fixing.
In December, Turkey's Parliament approved a sharp reduction in prison terms for match-fixing and hooliganism, a move that will lead to lighter sentences for any suspects found guilty in the 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 had argued that the amendments were giving "the impression of a special arrangement" to save suspects including Yıldırım.
Fenerbahçe went unbeaten through the second half of the season and beat Trabzonspor to the title on goal difference. Officials with Trabzonspor, which replaced Fenerbahçe in the Champions League, have also been implicated along with officials and players from several other clubs.
Yıldırım, who has denied any wrongdoing, faces charges of establishing a crime ring and match-fixing, according to the indictment which included records of wiretapped conversations between the suspects who allegedly exchanged encoded messages.
Fenerbahçe risks having its name tarnished like Italian club Juventus, which was stripped of its 2005 and 2006 Italian league titles.
Officials or players from at least eight Turkish clubs were implicated in the scandal. Former Giresunspor president Olgun Peker, described as the main ring leader in a broad match-fixing scheme, is among them.
The indictment accused some suspects of bribing rival team's players to play badly, or not play at all, and coercing referees to make favorable decisions.
In one specific claim in the indictment, Yıldırım is accused of ordering his aides to pay 100,000 euros ($134,000) to Istanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor player İbrahim Akın ahead of a match in May.
Former Fenerbahçe 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 Fenerbahçe.
Emenike, who was playing for Karabükspor at the time, was reportedly promised a transfer to Fenerbahçe in return for not playing in a match against the team - an allegation Karabükspor has denied. The club said Emenike was injured a week before the game and has a doctor's certificate to prove it.
CihanGüncelleme Tarihi: 14 Şubat 2012, 11:16