The police were surprised to see Fenerbahce president Aziz Yildirim dressed in a smart suit and shirt so early in the morning.
It was 7am on a Sunday when Aziz became the first person arrested and taken in for questioning over a match-fixing scandal that has turned out to be the biggest in the history of Turkish football.
The story soon spread like wildfire across the media and the names of those detained for questioning began to emerge. Along with Aziz, they included Fenerbahce vice-president Sekip Mosturoglu, the club’s former player Cemil Turan and new signings Emmanuel Emenike and Sezer Ozturk. Sivasspor president Mecnun Odyakmaz, Eskisehirspor coach Bulent Uygun and former international Umit Karan were also among the initial group of 26 people detained.
Another interesting name was that of Olgun Peker. An unlicensed agent with close links to Fenerbahce, he is a former president of second division Giresunspor. A police phone-tapping investigation of his links to organised crime is said to have triggered the current crisis.
As the police and courts began their investigations in earnest, the Turkish sports media began to voice their suspicions about possible fixed results.
Above all, attention centred on the final day of last season, when Fenerbahce beat Sivasspor 4-3 to claim the title on goal difference from Trabzonspor. This result capped a remarkable turnaround for Fenerbahce, who had seemed dead and buried at the halfway stage of the season but recovered to win an incredible 16 out of 17 games in the second half of the campaign.
The police, backed by video and photographic evidence, and with strong witnesses, claimed Aziz was the central figure, passing orders to his “generals” Sekip, Cemil and another Fenerbahce vice-president, Ilhan Eksioglu.
It is alleged that significant sums of money were offered to rival teams, such as Eskisehirspor, to persuade them to perform well against Fener’s closest rival Trabzonspor. It was not so much match fixing as match manipulation. After the first round of arrests and questioning, a number of people were released, but Aziz, Mecnun, Ilhan, Sekip, Bulent and Umit were detained and later charged, and remanded in custody pending trial.
Just when this was thought to be a case that centred solely on Fenerbahce, a second round of arrests took place.
Those detained this time included Istanbul BB players Ibrahim Akin and Iskender Alin, Trabzonspor president Sadri Sener, Besiktas coach Tayfur Havutcu and Besiktas director Serdal Adali. Tayfur and Serdal had been at a pre-season training camp in Austria and were ordered to fly straight home.
While the Trabzonspor contingent were released without charge, the others were not so lucky and it was alleged that Ibrahim Akın had been offered $100,000 by Fenerbahce to perform poorly against them.
The 27-year-old striker was also alleged to have been involved in fixing the Turkish Cup Final against Besiktas.
It was claimed that Besiktas director Serdal offered him two racehorses as a gift and was recorded on the telephone telling him: “Don’t play well against us, because we want to sign you to our team.” Beskitas won 4-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw.
As if to underline the seriousness of the situation, former FA president Mahmut Ozgener and former federation official Levent Kizil were also brought in for questioning, but were later released without charge.
Turkish FA chairman Mehmet Ali Aydinlar refused to take action against any of those involved, insisting that the legal process should take its course before any punishments are handed out. He insisted that the league should go ahead on August 6 and that Fenerbahce and Trabzonspor should represent Turkey in the Champions League.
However, matters are not expected to run that smoothly. Already, Besiktas have returned the Turkish Cup to the FA and have said they will refuse to play against Fenerbahce in the pre-season Super Cup.
The FA is coming under increasing pressure from the government to use the crisis to clean up Turkish football.
It has the power to relegate clubs and ban them from European competition, although taking sanctions against Fenerbahce, the country’s most powerful club, would provoke a storm of protest.
- Fenerbahce offered inducements to players from Eskisehirspor to perform well against rivals Trabzonspor.
- Fenerbahce offered an Istanbul BB player $100,000 to perform badly against them.
- Besiktas offered Istanbul BB’s Ibrahim Akin two racehorses to encourage him to play poorly in the Turkish Cup Final.
- Fenerbahce put pressure on the federation to appoint Cuneyt Cakir as referee of their Istanbul derby game against Besiktas. Aziz got his way, Cuneyt took charge and Fener won 4-2.
- Fenerbahce officials offered incentives to Konyaspor players, via coach Yilmaz Vural, ahead of their league game on March 20 which Fenerbahce won 2-0.
- Fenerbahce offered incentives to Bucaspor players, via former player Cemil Turan, urging them to go easy so that relegation rivals Sivasspor would be in a comfortable position before the final game of the season, which was against Fenerbahce.
- Cemil Turan offered a $300,000 incentive to Ankaragucu players before a match on May 15 in which Fenerbahce thrashed them 6-0.
- A Fenerbahce vice-president offered an inducement to Sivasspor goalkeeper Korcan Celikay to let in a goal on the final day of the season against Fener. Korcan conceded a suspicious goal and Fener won 4-3 to take the league title.
By Mehmet Demircan in Istanbul