ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A court sentenced Fenerbahce chairman Aziz Yildirim to more than six years in jail on Monday in a match-fixing trial which has caused turmoil in Turkey but released him from custody pending an appeals court ruling.
Yildirim was among several 93 defendants, including club executives and players, convicted in a case closely watched by European football’s ruling body UEFA.
“They are trying to use Fenerbahce to clean the dirt in the matches. I say now as I did at the start: even if we are on the gallows, our last word is Fenerbahce,” Yildirim said before the verdict was announced.
The court sentenced Yildirim to three years and nine months for match-fixing and two years and six months for forming an illegal organisation but then released him taking into account the year he has already spent in jail on remand.
He was also fined 1.3 million lira and was banned from club management and watching matches. Other Fenerbahce executives were also convicted, as were a former coach and executive from rival Istanbul club Besiktas.
Yildirim’s lawyer said he would launch an appeal.
Hundreds of Fenerbahce supporters outside the court in central Istanbul, many dressed in the club’s blue and yellow shirts, celebrated the news the chairman was going to be released.
Fans later gathered in front of Metris jail in Istanbul to give Yildirim a rapturous welcome as he emerged from prison.
A tearful Yildirim, a Fenerbahce flag wrapped around his neck, shook the hands of well-wishers and waved to the crowd.
Fenerbahce shares, which rallied more than eight percent after his release, were down 0.45 percent in afternoon trading.
Yildirim has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, arguing the allegations were designed to undermine the 18-times Turkish champions.
The affair erupted last July when police raids led to the detention of dozens of people including Yildirim.
The trial began in February and a verdict was reached at uncharacteristic speed for the normally slow-moving Turkish judicial system.
Former Giresunspor chairman Olgun Peker was sentenced to two years jail for crimes including forming a criminal gang. Like Yildirim and the two other defendants who were still held in custody until Monday’s hearing, he was set free pending appeal.
The Sivasspor chairman and former coach Bulent Uygun were also convicted along with players Gokcek Vederson, Ibrahim Akin and Mehmet Yildiz who received sentences of less than one year.
Fenerbahce were barred from the Champions League last season and there had been media speculation the club could be stripped of the domestic title and relegated to a lower league.
In January, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) chairman and his two deputies quit over the TFF’s failure to agree on how to punish clubs caught up in the match-fixing allegations.
The federation’s disciplinary committee in May imposed bans of between one and three years on 10 players and officials but did not take action against any clubs.
The indictment named eight clubs, including Fenerbahce, Besiktas and Trabzonspor and 14 players among the defendants.
It referred to around a dozen matches including Fenerbahce’s 4-3 victory over Sivasspor which clinched the league championship on the final day of the season in 2011.
Writing by Daren Butler; editing by Tony Jimenez