Arda Turan during his last spell at Galatasaray.ANP (ANP via Getty Images)
A multimillion-dollar scandal is currently rocking Turkish football. Some of the most well-known names in the sport in Turkey, starting with former FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid player Arda Turan, have lost huge amounts of money in a pyramid scheme. According to the Banking Supervision and Regulation Agency, the fraud has taken about 44 million dollars and 15 million lira (about 40.5 million euros in total) and in it, according to the statements of the main accused, the former national coach Fatih Terim is implicated.
Although the investigation began in April, its details did not begin to emerge until last week when the first hearings of the trial began and witnesses, defendants and plaintiffs began to parade before the court, launching accusations against each other.
Among the six accused, the main one is Seçil Erzan, director of a branch of the Denizbank bank (owned by the Dubai-based Emirates NBD) near the Galatasaray training ground, where the accounts of numerous active and retired footballers of the Istanbul club were managed. Erzan, who is in pre-trial detention, faces up to 216 years in prison. According to the indictment, the banker convinced up to 29 people – footballers and businessmen – to invest in an exclusive fund that offered returns of up to 40% per month, well above the interest provided by other financial instruments. For more than a decade, those affected contributed millions of dollars and lira — which they gave to Erzan in bills inside briefcases, bags and backpacks — and all the collateral they got was receipts handwritten by the director with a bank seal. At the time, none of them complained about such an unprofessional way of handling large amounts of money, because they periodically received their supposed winnings, also in cash. The problem, according to the indictment, is that the investment fund did not exist: it was a pyramid scheme that began to falter about two years ago, when new clients stopped entering, and which exploded at the beginning of this year.
The coach who gave Arda Güler his debut: "We had to send him off; if not, I trained all day."
"Seçil Erzan deceived me by claiming that he would offer us an investment fund. He informed us that it was a corporate fund of the bank, and I trusted that it was something official. I want justice to be done," Emre Çolak, a former Galatasaray and Deportivo La Coruña midfielder who has reportedly lost more than $3 million, told the court.
"I gave over $13 million. All the money earned with my effort. The work of years, suddenly disappeared," denounced Arda Turan in her testimony. According to a phone call between the footballer and the banker included in the investigation and the transcript of which has been published by several Turkish media, Turan was one of those affected who contributed the most money to the scheme. "So I'm the biggest victim," he complains to Erzan, and Erzan replies, "Of course it's you, you're the one who put in the most [money] and received." The NTV channel, also citing the investigation, explains that, in the first place, Arda Turan contributed three million dollars and, after a little more than a month, received one million in alleged interest from the fund, so he took out millionaire loans and sold a real estate property to deliver all that money to the banker. Periodically, he received payments of different amounts, but at some point they stopped. In total, the former Barça player has lost around $7.5 million.
Others affected are the captain and goalkeeper of Galatasaray and the Uruguayan national team Fernando Muslera – who would have contributed 1.2 million dollars, of which he would have lost half a million; former Atletico, Inter Milan and Fenerbahçe midfielder Emre Belözoglu – who would have lost more than four million dollars – and former Galatasaray player and current coach Selçuk Inan, who is owed 1.5 million. On the other hand, there are those who received more money than they contributed – supposedly because they entered the scheme earlier – such as former players Semih Kaya and Ayhan Akman (currently part of the Galatasaray coaching staff) as well as lenders and businessmen Atilla Baltas and Süleyman Aslan, who would have earned, each, between one and 2.5 million dollars. A second investigation has been launched into these alleged beneficiaries, in which 11 people have been charged.
The point that has not yet been clarified is the degree of involvement of Fatih Terim, a true totem of Turkish football who has won eight leagues and a UEFA Cup as coach of Galatasaray and, as coach, led Turkey to the semi-finals of Euro 2008. Although his name does not appear in the indictment, Turkish media have reported that the players referred to the fake investment fund as the Terim fund because, supposedly, he would be the one who convinced them to invest the money. In fact, Terim and Erzan had a close collaborative relationship and spent the summer together on several occasions: they were like "father and daughter", according to an affidavit provided by Candaş Gürol, a former lawyer for the family of the former coach and former partner of the banker. Erzan herself claims that Terim made "profits" that she estimates at about $800,000. The former coach, for his part, has denied having any knowledge of the scam and has assured that it is an attack by people who hate him, so he announced that he will start "the biggest legal battle in history" against those who sully his name.
There are still loose ends in the scandal, for example, the degree of involvement of the bank itself – Erzan has assured that several managers were accomplices and that they have tried to pressure it to take all the blame – or what happened to the swindled money. According to the Sabah newspaper, which cites a protected witness, Erzan herself took part to Switzerland. Another of the defendants is accused of smuggling money into Bulgaria, while journalist Fatih Altayli cites the case of one of those affected. He says that when he became suspicious, he placed a GPS device in a backpack with money given to Erzan and watched as he traveled to the coastal town of Bodrum, where some of the people allegedly benefiting from the scam have summer residences.
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