A Europol probe revealed a criminal network with ties to Turkey that has fixed hundreds of football league matches.
By Ayhan Simsek for Southeast European Times -- 08/02/13
FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke listens during the Interpol conference "Match-fixing: The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game" at Rome's Police School on January 17th. [AFP]
The European police agency Europol this week revealed an international criminal network with ties to Turkish crime organisations that fixed football matches in dozens of countries, with Turkey having the leading number.
"Recent investigations have revealed that Turkey has almost become the motherland of match-fixing in Europe," Mert Yaşar, an academic from Galatasaray University and member of the Sports Law Commission of Turkey's National Olympic Committee, told SETimes.
"Not only in Turkey's top two leagues or lower leagues, but also in some of the international friendly matches played in Turkey, cases of match-fixing have been identified in recent years," he said.
According to press reports, Europol's probe uncovered at least 79 matches in Turkey in recent years that were fixed by a criminal network. The European police agency based its conclusions on the analysis of intelligence reports, 13,000 emails and other materials, which were provided by police from several European countries, as well as Interpol.
Europol's 18-month investigation revealed that the criminal network was running most of the operations out of Singapore. The agency said 151 suspects were operating in Germany and 66 in Turkey. Turkish citizens are among the key suspects in Germany and Switzerland.
Asked by SETimes to respond, Europol officials declined to give details about the manipulations in Turkish leagues and stressed that the case is now in the court of national authorities.
"For now, Europol has no further comments on the investigation or speculation about the games, players and officials involved," the press office of the European police agency told SETimes. "The on-going cases are in the hands of the national prosecution authorities and are beyond Europol's responsibility."
Europol's findings added to pressure on authorities to address the still unresolved match-fixing and betting scandal in Turkey. Last year, the largest ever match-fixing investigation in the country, involving major professional clubs in about 30 matches, was uncovered by authorities.
Recent findings suggest that Europol's probe will reveal new match-fixing cases in Turkey, which were not investigated in the country. Most of them are thought to be related to lower leagues.
Last year's probe in Turkey has been controversial.
In Turkey's largest ever match-fixing investigation, prosecutors in Istanbul charged 93 football club officials, players and coaches with attempting to manipulate matches from the top two Turkish football leagues during the 2010- 2011 season. Those charged included Aziz Yıldırım, the chairman of Turkey's leading football club Fenerbahce.
In the judicial process, more than 40 people were found guilty of match-fixing by a judge, but the verdict is pending appeal.
"Unfortunately, last year's major investigations into match-fixing in Turkey have been watered down," Yaşar said. "In order to avoid severe punishment to several clubs and their managers, laws had been changed, disciplinary measures were softened and in many cases they were not applied. Many of those charged escaped penalties."
Despite the court's ruling, the Turkish Football Federation did not punish any clubs involved in the case, claiming that "even though there were attempts to manipulate matches, they were not reflected on the pitch." No manager from the top Turkish football leagues has been punished.
When asked about Europol's recent probe, federation Chairman Yıldırım Demirören said on Tuesday (February 5th) that the federation will wait for information from FIFA and will "solve the problem together."
"Interpol and FIFA are working together on the issue and we are sure that FIFA will send every detail about the betting scandal to us," Demirören told reporters.
To some observers, the federation has been dragging its feet to bring light to the match-fixing and betting scandal due to conflicting interests and political influence on the federation.
"It is wrong to wait now for information from Europol. Look at France and UK football federations. They have already contacted Europol and demanded information," Yaşar said.
He added that other than federation’s disciplinary measures against players and clubs involved in match-fixing, there should also be a judicial process to bring charges against the members of the criminal network. Turkish prosecutors should contact Europol, as match-fixing and manipulations on betting constitute crime under Turkish law, Yaşar said.
Whether Turkish prosecutors have already contacted Europol demanding information or have already started a new probe and informed European partners is unclear. The investigations are highly confidential.
As speculation about match-fixing and betting scandals grow in the wake of Europol's probe, some football fans feel frustrated. For more than a year, Trabzonspor fans have continued their protests and demand "clean football."
They said that the 2010-2011 domestic league championship should be taken from Fenerbahçe and handed over to Trabzonspor, the season's runner-up. Most of the Fenerbahce fans on the other hand believe the court case against Yıldırım was a politically motivated plot.
Yaşar said the controversy around last year's probe shows that achieving "clean football" is not an easy task. A strong lobby of managers of Turkish football clubs, who are often leading businessmen, and various interests that link them to the politicians, continue to have influence.
"What we really need is political courage and political will against match-fixing," he said. "We have to change all the current managers who do not have a clean record. We have to fight against corruption."
If this is not done, Turkish fans may lose confidence in Turkish leagues and the sport may face another big risk.
"The pressure is mounting over UEFA to do something concrete. Turkey has the highest number of match-fixing cases in Europe, Turkish football is increasingly viewed with suspicion in European public opinion," Yaşar said. "After Europol's recent probe, if significant match-fixing cases are revealed, but Turkish authorities continue to drag their feet, then we may face severe punishments by Europe."
Possible sanctions could include exclusion from the European championships, he said.