One of the main defendants in a match-fixing scandal that has tarnished Turkey's multi-billion-dollar soccer league, dismissed the charges against him on Monday as "despicable" and a "smear".
Dozens of leading Turkish soccer officials, including the chairman of champions Fenerbahce, began presenting their defence at an Istanbul court on Monday, in a trial that is being closely watched by European football's ruling body UEFA.
Former Giresunspor president Olgun Peker, described as the main ringleader in the broad match-fixing scheme, was the first to state his defence to the court.
"Match-fixing is such a despicable allegation, such a smear campaign against me," Turkish media reported Peker as telling the court. Peker faces a maximum of 115 years in prison if convicted, according to the indictment.
The trial, which began last Tuesday, comes weeks after the resignation of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) chairman and his two deputies over the TFF's failure to agree on how to punish clubs caught up in the scandal.
UEFA has pressed the TFF to take urgent action over the case and will be watching proceedings closely. Sanctions against clubs could include relegation.
Thousands of football fans massed outside Istanbul's grand courthouse in freezing temperatures as a show of support for the accused, chanting slogans and singing songs in favour of jailed Fenerbahce chairman Aziz Yildirim and other defendants.
"Nobody can stand up to Fenerbahce," the fans cheered while some lit flares. "See you at the ballot box," they chanted, in a reference to Yildirim's comments to journalists on Friday during a court break that the case was politically motivated.
Turkish champions Fenerbahce were barred from the Champions League because of their alleged involvement in the match-fixing scandal. The team could be stripped of their domestic title, thrown out of Turkey's top league and forced to play in a lower one, penalties that could cost the club millions.
"We want a fair trial here and the Turkish people demand that the invisible hands over Turkish football be lifted," said Umut Oran, a member of parliament from Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).