Fenerbahce boss rejects match-fixing charges
Yildirim is among 93 defendants, including leading football officials and players being tried in a case which has cast a shadow over the multi-billion dollar league and brought calls from European football's ruling body UEFA for disciplinary action against the clubs involved.
"I've been Fenerbahce's chairman since February 1998, the most honorable duty of my life, which I have fulfilled with absolute honesty," Yildirim, wearing a tie in the club's blue-and-yellow colours, told the crowded courtroom in Istanbul.
The scandal erupted last July when police raids led to the detention of dozens of people including Yildirim. The indictment issued in December charged Yildirim with being a gang leader among charges ranging from match-fixing to paying bribes.
"This is not a personal trial it is a trial of Fenerbahce," said an agitated-looking Yildirim. "Some circles created a fantasy in order to say 'stop' to Fenerbahce's ascent," he said, accusing an unidentified group as trying to take over Turkish football.
The trial began a week ago amid calls from UEFA to the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) to take urgent action over the case. Sanctions against clubs could include relegation.
NEW CHAIRMAN SOUGHT
At the end of last month the TFF chairman and his two deputies quit over the TFF's failure to agree on how to punish clubs caught up in the scandal. The federation will hold an election at the end of the month to choose a new chairman.
Clubs have rejected a reform proposal under which clubs believed to be involved in match-fixing would no longer face relegation, which is the current punishment, but would instead have faced a minimum 12-point deduction.
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.
The indictment names eight clubs, including Fenerbahce, Besiktas and Trabzonspor, who are currently in the Europa League. Fourteen players are among the defendants.
The indictment refers to 13 matches, including Fenerbahce's 4-3 victory over Sivasspor which clinched the league championship on the final day of last season.
Yildirim also accused Istanbul rivals Galatasaray of involvement in match-fixing in the past. Galatasaray is not mentioned in the indictment and currently lead the domestic league this season, ahead of Fenerbahce and Besiktas.