The head of Turkish football giant Fenerbahce returned home in defiant mood just days after a court ruling upheld a jail term against him for match-fixing.
About 5,000 supporters, wearing the blue and yellow Fenerbahce colours, massed alongside several club players outside an Istanbul airport to greeted Aziz Yildirim as he arrived back in Turkey late Tuesday.
“Fenerbahce is a stronghold and we will not surrender,” the 61-year-old Yildirim declared to the cheers of the crowd.
Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals on Friday confirmed a prison term of six years and three months against Yildirim as well as sentences against several other Fenerbahce officials.
The ruling also bars Yildirim and all others convicted in the case that rocked the country’s domestic football league from serving as club officials.
Yildirim said at the weekend he would not recognise the “political” ruling and suggested it was linked to a wide-ranging corruption probe engulfing the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
His lawyers on Monday appealed for a “correction” to the decision.
Yildirim was first sentenced to jail in 2012 and fined 1.3 million lira (580,000 dollars) for match-fixing during the 2010-2011 season and of forming a criminal gang.
He served about a year behind bars before being freed pending his appeal.
In all, 93 people were originally convicted in the case and European football’s governing body UEFA barred Fenerbahce from the Champions’ League for two seasons as a result of its investigation.
Erdogan appeared to back up Yildirim’s claims, saying he found the timing of the supreme court ruling “meaningful”.
“Why had such a verdict not been delivered so far? Why was such a verdict delivered ahead of elections? You could have done it after March 30,” he said on Monday, referring to the date of local polls.
He accused what he described as the “parallel structure within the judiciary” of instigating the ruling — referring to supporters of an exiled Islamic cleric he charges is trying to topple his government.
The match-fixing probe was launched by Zekeriya Oz, one of the prosecutors involved in the graft investigation targeting key Erdogan allies and who has since been reassigned in a mass purge of police and the judiciary by the government.
Yildirim, a former professional footballer, became head of Fenerbahce in 1998 and was reelected to the post only in November last year despite the scandal.
Fenerbache, which was founded almost a century ago, also runs a variety of other sports including basketball, volleyball, table tennis, boxing and sailing.