Turkish club president who punched referee released pending trial

The former president of Turkish football club Ankaragücü, who was arrested earlier this month after punching a referee at the end of game in Ankara, has been released pending trial, Turkish Minute reported, citing the T24 news website.

Faruk Koca, 59, a former Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmaker, on Dec. 11 knocked referee Halil Umut Meler to the ground with a vicious punch to the face on the pitch following a 1-1 draw with Rizespor, leaving the official with a black eye.

He was arrested the following day along with two other men who took part in the attack.

Koca was released on Wednesday when a petition from his lawyer objecting to his imprisonment was accepted by an Ankara court. He spent 15 days in jail.

Koca and the two others who kicked the referee were arrested on charges of “injuring and threatening a public official” as part of an investigation launched by the Ankara West Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The incident, which sparked outrage, led to the suspension of the Turkish Super Lig by the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) until Dec. 19.

Koca announced his resignation from Ankaragücü following the incident. He was subsequently handed a lifetime ban by Turkey’s football federation.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is known to have close ties to Koca, condemned the incident in a message on the X social media platform at the time, but there were claims that Koca’s close ties to Erdoğan and his government may help him go unpunished after the public outrage dies down.

Following the incident, the AKP referred Koca, who was also among the co-founders of the party, to its disciplinary board, demanding his dismissal from the party. The party’s Central Executive Board (MYK) subsequently decided to eject him from the party.

Meler was kept under observation at a hospital for two days due to some bleeding around his left eye and a fracture from the impact of the punch.

The referee, who spoke to police at the hospital, said Koca threatened to “finish him and the other referees on the pitch off” and said, “I will kill you,” in reference to Meler.

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