AKP-Fethullah clash and the Fenerbahçe issue

12 Dec 2011

Greed is unstoppable and can cause the best of partnerships to collapse. Could this be happening to the ruling AKP and the Fethullah Gülen sect? The poorly constructed match fixing probe gives us some clues.

Anon I is the Editor in Chief of TurkeyEmergency. This website is about the decay of progression in a country of more than 60 million people.

Back in July, I summarised the events surrounding the match fixing allegations on a number of football clubs, mainly Fenerbahçe. Since then, Fenerbahçe was denied entry into the UEFA Champions League and had to sell a number of high-profile players to make up for the sudden financial loss. The public prosecutor’s indictment was finalised last week, four months after the arrests were made on 3 July 2011. Of course, a lot of the content was leaked to the media, particularly to Taraf newspaper, since 4 July. Fenerbahçe fans of millions were left bewildered and furious to say the least. After students, environmental activists, workers and teachers, Fenerbahçe fans also took to the streets and were swiftly tear-gassed in typical Fethullah-police fashion.

With judicial comedies like the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases clearly showing political motivations behind the prosecution and clear manipulative tactics being used by the police and justice system to load guilt on suspects, no one with the right mind could not approach the match fixing case, the Şike Soruşturması, with skepticism. Fenerbahçe and Aziz Yıldırım, its chairman, are no simple matters in Turkey. The police, now clearly dominated by Fethullah Gülen followers and part of the cemaat, supported staunchly by Zaman (or vuvuZaman?), Taraf and countless other Gülen funded mouthpieces, go out of their way to execute plans to silence government critics and improve more corrupt business potential. When we speak of Yıldırım, we speak of large military contracts. When we speak of Fenerbahçe, we speak of a society that can mobilise and influence millions of people and make a profit from them as well. This might be tough for some North Americans to understand, but football clubs in Europe have historically stood up for various ideologies, religious beliefs, political stances and communities within their respective countries. Football fans attached to historic clubs are quite religious with their support, but some of the values that these clubs represent are quite significant. Fenerbahçe doesn’t represent a specific political ideology, apart from closely affiliating itself with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as do the other two historic giants, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş.

This wouldn’t stop an ideological movement aiming to exert influence across the world from taking an interest into using Fenerbahçe. Turkish Airlines, which is half-owned by and aligned with the government (so much so that you can’t find government criticising newspapers on board) sponsors Barcelona FC, Manchester United FC and Kobe Bryant, as well as Gülen-organised “dialogue” events. Gülen has himself rubbed shoulders with football personalities since the 90’s. Before he escaped to his Pennsylvania mansion, Fethullah was frequently seen with Galatasaray head coach Fatih Terim and their star striker Hakan Şükür, who is now an AKP MP. Fethullah was even the latter’s witness at his wedding. Kombassan, a Konya based company and part of the cemaat, runs the club aptly named Kombassan Konyaspor and their fans chant “play for the imam, play for the mosque” every time they play.

The football corruption trial won’t begin until 14 February 2012, but the indictment is available for download in all its glory. This now gives everyone the chance to make their own decision on the case, including the media. That’s great news for the detainees, who’re being ripped apart in public before they’ve even had a chance to defend themselves. This is typical of Turkish justice, as seen in the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases. Other similarities between the football investigation and these farcical coup claims is the way the indictments are written.

An indictment partly written in Comic Sans

The public prosecutor employed to put the match fixing indictment (35mb PDF file) together was Mehmet Berk, who can be considered a poor novelist with his work in the Balyoz case. Nevertheless, from a government point of view, he’s doing a good job when you look at the impressive number of people pacified by thrown behind bars. The Ergenekon and Balyoz cases are full of discredited and flimsy evidence, technical manipulations to computer files and personal opinions presented as fact. This case is no different. The Fenerbahçe section of the indictment begins with Berk saying he’s “determined” the following pieces of information: Yıldırım is the chairman of the club for personal and business prestige and that because the club lost the Turkish Süper Lig championships on the last matchday in two seasons of the last five, and that another “would be a big blow to him being elected for another term” and that Yıldırım and “members of the criminal organisation” don’t want to let go of the administration of the club.

The match fixing indictment is written partly in Comic Sans type

A section of the indictment, bizarrely written in Comic Sans type

These claims are merely personal thoughts and there’s absolutely no way of determining that Yıldırım wanted to run for another term and that he’s in the hot seat of the Fenerbahçe presidency for prestige. That may indeed be true, but only Yıldırım would know that. I somehow doubt he would tell anyone, “I’m in this job for the social and business prestige and we have to win the championship this season or they will want me out”. Berk’s determinations are presented in the “Introduction” part of the section titled “The criminal organisation headed by Aziz Yıldırım” and are followed by telephone conversation transcripts. We can only explain the inclusion of such statements as a cheap attempt to influence the judge.

In addition, the transcripts strike me and many others as odd. Firstly, they are clearly only parts of conversations. There are no greetings at the beginning of the transcripts which means only parts of the wiretappings have been used. It goes without saying that no one in the general public has listened to the audio tapes, so skeptics like myself will remain so until the tapes are released in full and they’re scientifically proven to be legitimate and untampered recordings. The parties involved in the conversations use some strange wordings and phrases, which Berk claims are code to mean other things. Again, this is a claim that’s not well backed up, though they could make sense depending on how you put the story together.

A number of Fenerbahçe bloggers have pointed out serious discrepancies between reality and the indictment. The indictment talks of an “anonymous witness” testifying that jailed mafia leader Sedat Peker, a Fenerbahçe member, threatened a number of Beşiktaş players, telling them to “lose in any way possible” to Fenerbahçe in the second half of the 2004 season. The indictment goes on to say that Fenerbahçe won that game with a score of 3-1 and that Tümer Metin, one of the players Peker had talked to before the game, wasn’t in the starting 11 of the game and was sent off for spitting at a referee. In reality, however, Metin was in the starting 11 and was not sent off. A very simple fact which could have been established by cross-checking what this dubious witness said by looking at the Turkish Football Federation’s database. A number of blogs and newspapers picked up on this right away.

There’s also the claim that Yıldırım bribed the players of Manisaspor to play well against championship contenders Trabzonspor in the 2010-2011 season by sending 500,000 dollars to Manisaspor’s vice-president. There’s no information as to how the money was used to motivate the Manisaspor players and no evidence to show that the money was received by them. It beggars belief that no Manisaspor player was called for questioning regarding this issue. Yıldırım said the money was a personal loan and that it was paid back in four instalments by cheque.

Fenerbahçe vice-president İlhan Ekşioğlu is at the centre of many of the claims as the man who allegedly executed the match fixing by communicating with other clubs and their players. Payments made to Ekşioğlu are claimed to be for the purposes of match fixing, despite being at dates that don’t fall before or after these games, a fact Berk recognises in his indictment but says that this is deception to make the payments look less suspicious.

To add, all plastic carrier bags carried by people affiliated with Fenerbahçe are claimed to hold match fixing money, again with no evidence. You might be asking why the police didn’t catch these people red-handed. Indeed that’s what much of the public has been asking. The public prosecutor says that they didn’t order any operation to not expose the investigation. The spying carried on right until the kick-off of the final game of the season, which is also claimed to be corrupt. An operation at that point would have been the perfect time to reveal the corruption. If the prosecutor claims to have known the results of 19 games before they were played, why not make a bold move and catch the perpetrators red-handed before or after the last game to have a solid base for all the allegations?

There’s another interesting anomaly in the indictment which involves the AKP. A couple of weeks before the indictment, the statements given to the police by suspects Zeki Mazlum (a businessman also giving security services to Trabzonspor) and Trabzonspor chairman Sadri Şener were leaked on Twitter by an anonymous and angry Fenerbahçe fan. These police documents include the tape transcripts from some of the conversations they had with each other and others, followed by their responses during questioning. In one transcript, Mazlum says: “The AKP’s Trabzon office would do everything for Trabzonspor to be champions.” He says this after he talks of Trabzon based businessmen that could donate towards a bonus to opponents of Fenerbahçe and “could amass 5 million dollars if they wanted”. The sentence involving AKP is nowhere to be seen in the indictment.

Zeki Mazlum's mentioning potential AKP support for Trabzonspor

Zeki Mazlum's mentioning potential AKP support for Trabzonspor in his statement to the police. This section was taken out of the indictment.

The repercussions: AKP-cemaat rift

As prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was hospitalised for an intestinal problem, the parliament was busy putting together a new law to deal with corruption in sports, changing the upper and lower limits of prison sentences. All parties including CHP came to an agreement to allow suspects to be released on bail rather than be kept in custody (this wouldn’t benefit Yıldırım, who’s also accused of creating an armed organisation to execute the corruption) and for those that are found not-guilty at the end of such trials to be freed from judicial barriers of returning to take positions at sports organisations. The previous law called for much higher prison sentences and was considered too draconian. Yıldırım faces between 59 to 156 years imprisonment if the charges are all accepted, while players accused with very little and fickle evidence could be in prison for around 12 years.

Turkey president Abdullah Gül vetoed the new law on 2 December 2011. The presidential statement said that the adaptations to the punishments for sports corruption “gave the impression among the general public that they have been made to suit the conditions of individuals during an ongoing investigation”. It was the first time that Gül, in his four year presidency, had vetoed a bill and sent it back to parliament for reconsideration. The AKP co-founder had been as efficient as a packaging machine at the end of a conveyor belt in churning out laws drawn up by the AKP. Why then, would Gül veto this bill?

If Yıldırım was prosecuted under the current law, he would not be able to take up Fenerbahçe’s presidency ever again. This would pave the way for a Gülenist president for Fenerbahçe, perhaps Murat Ülker, a name on the Forbes millionaire list. Fethullah would be able to use Fenerbahçe as a PR vehicle and the 104-year history of the club as a non-political, international athlete producing respected sports club would come to an end. On the other hand, the Çalık Group, owned by prime minister Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, wanted to enter military tenders and couldn’t beat Yıldırım’s consortium in a tender for a secretive helicopter contract. It’s been alleged that Yıldırım was told to stay out of the bidding by Erdoğan, but because he didn’t abide, the go-ahead to bring him down by means of a corruption investigation was given. Four days before the bidding for the helicopter contract, said to be worth 4 billion dollars, a change in Law 4734 for Public Tenders was made to “forbid those under criminal investigations for crimes under the Terrorism Law or organised crime to take part in bidding and if they were awarded with contracts before being sentenced for these crimes, the contract will be terminated and the deal deemed invalid”.

The two different motivations clash head on, as Ahmet Nesin observes.

It must also be noted that since the match fixing allegations began, Yıldırım and even Fenerbahçe as a whole has been accused, mainly by Taraf newspaper, of having ties to, yes you guessed it, the fable-ous Ergenekon terrorist organisation. “If it’s Taraf accusing, then I’m a proud defendant”, one fan said to me.

So, we have the cemaat and Erdoğan after different things with Fenerbahçe. There’s also the impact on the electorate should Yıldırım and Beşiktaş officials, including their coach Tayfur Havutçu and vice-president Serdar Adalı (part of the consortium that won the helicopter contract with Yıldırım) are found guilty with extremely heavy prison sentences. Losing a few million of AKP’s voters who’re protesting such sentences will have a serious impact on AKP’s next term, which Erdoğan is envisaging as a single-man presidency. This supports why Gül wouldn’t care about another term for AKP, because he will have no place to sit and neither will Bülent Arınç, the easily offended, aging weakest link of the party, who when Erdoğan was in hospital, said: “I’ve never obeyed even Erdoğan, or even [Necmettin] Erbakan.” He also said that he was glad the new corruption law was vetoed and that “no party will be able to touch this law again”. He was wrong, however, as it has been forwarded to the president without a single word being changed, which means Gül has to pass the law as it is.

Fethullah’s warning messages to Erdoğan

The rift between cemaat and Erdoğan due to their sheer greed doesn’t end there. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This can’t be truer when Turkey’s economic resources are being taken up in masses by friends and family of Erdoğan and Fethullah Gülen. On 23 November, Zaman re-published a full page letter by Fethullah, which was originally published in the August 2005 issue of his magazine Sızıntı. The letter gives several warnings for “arrogant people” with religious citations. Ali Ünal, a Zaman columnist known for his relationship with Fethullah, had heavily criticised Erdoğan for his “arrogance” and for “not listening to some people around him”. Then Fethullah’s own letter was re-published in full to hammer in the point. An OdaTV summary can be found here (in Turkish) which also includes links to their articles reporting heavy criticism towards Erdoğan by Zaman writers throughout 2011.

Nihal Bengisu Karaca, a hijab wearing (the slightly revealing kind) religiously conservative columnist for HaberTurk, listed five points where the cemaat and AKP are clashing (in Turkish). Among them are the AKP’s foreign policy which is preventing Fethullah from being on good terms with Israel and how non-Gülenist AKP members are annoyed at the fraternity staffing among cemaat members and vice-versa. She makes the claims as “someone close to both sides”.

The Fenerbahçe issue could be a tearing point for relations between two power hungry factions within the force that rules Turkey and nearly all of its public institutions. An ideologically fuelled quest for millions of dollars and lira could turn into a head to head clash between the cemaat and AKP as we approach 2014. While the handbags are coming out between Islamocapitalists, the families of those being detained for accusations on laughable grounds in the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases are suffering further in the absence of their loved ones, and sane Fenerbahçe fans are worried that the club they’ve been proud of supporting will fall into the hands of a neo-Islamist nurjuvazi*.

*Nur (meaning “light”) is the name of the sect which Gülen derives from.

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