13.06.2018 13:43 h

Turkey ex-footballers face heavy jail terms in coup probe

Ömer Catkic (2003)
Ömer Catkic (2003)

Six former Turkish footballers, most of them ex-national team players, face up to 15 years in jail on charges of membership of the group blamed for the 2016 failed coup, the indictment in the case showed Wednesday.

Turkey blamed the failed coup of July 15, 2016 to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen and launched a purge to rid the country of his influence, affecting all walks of life.

Several players have been investigated in what prosecutors call a "structure" within football set up by Gulen to investigate the Turkish game. Gulen denies any links to the coup.

Prosecutors have asked for jail sentences between seven-and-a-half to 15 years for the footballers on charges of "membership of an armed terror group", the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Those charged include Omer Catkic, capped 19 times for Turkey's national team and was in the squad for the 2002 World Cup when Turkey memorably won third place.

Also charged is former international footballer Bekir Irtegun, who played for six years for Fenerbahce before joining Istanbul rivals Basaksehir in 2015.

Fellow suspects Zafer Biryol and Ugur Boral also made several appearances for Turkey.

Both Catkic and Biryol are currently in jail with the other suspects free under judicial supervision but still charged, Anadolu said. The trial will start in the next days, it added.

Several of the suspects, including Catkic, are accused of downloading and sending messages through the Bylock messaging app which authorities suspect was used by Gulen's supporters to coordinate the coup bid.

Charged in a separate case is Catkic's most famous teammate from 2002, former star striker Hakan Sukur, who scored the quickest goal in World Cup finals history in that tournament.

Sukur, who never made any secret of his support for the Gulen movement, currently lives in exile in the United States.