Soccer-Fenerbahce chairman faces jail time again after appeal rejected

ISTANBUL, April 18 Fri Apr 18, 2014 5:45am EDT

ISTANBUL, April 18 (Reuters) - The chairman of Turkish club Fenerbahce, Aziz Yildirim, faces a probable return to prison after his appeal against a conviction for match-fixing was rejected by a top court on Thursday.

Yildirim was sentenced to six years, three months in jail in 2012 after he was found guilty of fixing games in Turkey's top league. He served one year in prison ahead of the trial, but was freed pending the appeals process.

A court initially rejected his appeal in January, and Thursday's ruling by the higher, Supreme Court of Appeals Prosecutors' Office leaves Yildirim with few legal options.

Regarded as the most powerful man in Turkish soccer, Yildirim has carried on working over the past two years as chairman of Fenerbahce, who look on course to win their 19th title in the Turkish football championship.

The court on Thursday also upheld sentences against other Fenerbahce officials for their involvement in manipulating several games in the 2010-2011 Turkish championship.

Yildirim was not immediately available for comment.

Yildirim has said the match-fixing case was politically motivated and linked it to a corruption scandal that has rattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in recent months.

Erdogan, who has voiced support for Yildirim, has said the graft allegations that have battered his government were part of a smear campaign orchestrated by "a state within a state".

"The prime minister mentions a parallel state. It's that state, the 'cemaat,' who is behind the operation against us," Yildirim had told Reuters earlier this year.

In 2013, the governing body of European soccer, UEFA, banned Fenerbahce and Turkish rival Besiktas from European competitions for match-fixing for two years and one year respectively. The Court of Arbitraion for Sport 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. (Editing by Crispian Balmer)