CANNES (Reuters) - Fenerbahce chairman Aziz Yildirim said on Monday his latest 38-month prison sentence over a match-fixing scandal was politically motivated, linking it to a corruption scandal shaking the Turkish government.
“As I said from the very beginning, the court case regarding match fixing in Turkey is a political case, and the ruling of this case has also been made politically,” Yildirim told Reuters in an interview conducted in France.
“I do not respect or recognise this ruling,” he said, adding he would return to Turkey on Tuesday.
Yildirim in 2012 appealed against a six-year, three-month prison sentence after he was found guilty of match-fixing in Turkey’s top league and forming an unarmed crime gang for this purpose. He served one year in prison pending trial.
But on Friday, a top court upheld the sentence much to the annoyance of Yildirim.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whose government is battling a wide-ranging corruption investigation, also criticised the court’s ruling, which will prevent Yildirim from working for Fenerbahce.
Erdogan, who has cast the corruption scandal swirling around his government as a smear campaign by a “parallel state” within the judiciary, defended Yildirim, saying he was the victim of a similar plot.
“The parallel state took a very finely calculated step here as well,” Erdogan told a press conference on Monday.
Erdogan’s supporters say the followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose “cemaat” network is influential within the police and judiciary, are behind the corruption probe.
“The prime minister mentions a parallel state. It’s that state, the ‘cemaat,’ who is behind the operation against us,” Yildirim said.
The governing body of European soccer, UEFA, has banned Fenerbahce and Turkish rival Besiktas from European competitions for match-fixing. The Court of Arbitraion for Sport has upheld the ban.
Scores of individuals, including agents, former players and club managers were arrested in two waves of the probe, with Yildirim being the highest-profile figure.
Turkish sport has had to deal with several blows over the past few years, including doping scandals, match-fixing cases and losing the 2020 Olympics bid to Tokyo.
Reporting by Marina Depetris, writing by Ece Toksabay; editing by G Crosse