Alleged victims and Fifpro have criticised the head of African football’s governing body for publicly supporting the president of Gabon’s football federation, who has been accused of covering up widespread sexual abuse.
Pierre-Alain Mounguengui could face up to three years in prison if found guilty of not reporting to Gabon’s authorities alleged sexual abuse in the country by a number of coaches after allegations first made in the Guardian. He is awaiting trial after being indicted and placed under a committal order in May. There is no suggestion Mounguengui – who was re-elected as Fegafoot’s president for a third term on 16 April – has been accused of sexual abuse himself. He has not commented on the charges.
Patrice Motsepe, the South African mining billionaire businessman who became president of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) last year, visited Mounguengui in the Gros Bouquet Central prison in Libreville during an official trip to Gabon this month. He presented Mounguengui with a pennant that read: “President Dr Patrice Motsepe to Mr Pierre Alain Mounguengui President Gabonese Football Federation. With our compliments.”
Motsepe and Caf’s general secretary, Véron Mosengo-Omba, had earlier met Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo, and minister of sports, Franck Nguema, where it is understood that Mounguengui’s case was top of the agenda.
Motsepe, in a statement released by CAF, said that they “spent time discussing a number of problems and challenges facing football in Gabon and Africa. The challenges in Gabonese football should be resolved in accordance with the Gabonese legal system and the Caf and Fifa articles and regulations”.
According to one alleged victim who did not want to be named, Caf’s show of support for Mounguengui has provoked feelings of “disgust, sadness and revolt”. “Patrice Motsepe arriving in Gabon had no word for the many victims of this scandal,” he told the Guardian. “And as if the humiliation were not enough, he did not come empty-handed. He brought a gift for his imprisoned friend. As if to say: ‘Valiant Soldier, hold on!’ We are proud of you!”
Another alleged victim said: “I would like someone to explain to me how the president of Caf can visit Gabon and not even talk about sexual abuse to try and reassure the victims. Motsepe insulted them and the Gabonese people.”
A statement from Fifpro, the international players’ union, said it was “astonished to learn of the latest efforts by football’s most senior representatives in Africa to intervene in an ongoing criminal prosecution”.
The statement added: “We understand that Caf executives are not involved in the investigation in Gabon and therefore are not privy to the evidence collected by prosecutors. That Caf executives should again attempt to influence criminal proceedings is deeply concerning, and shows a lack of respect and empathy for the victims and survivors. By acting in this manner, they are increasing the risks for the mental health and safety of victims and survivors, and endangering this group’s trust in the investigation.”
A Caf spokesperson said in response: “This matter was raised a few months ago by Fifpro and it was adequately dealt with.”
The spokesperson also said that Motsepe “has been clear about Caf’s position in relation to the situation in Gabon and president Mounguengui”.
He added: “Caf respects the rule of law and the judicial processes in every African nation. Caf supports the implementation of appropriate legal measures in line with international legal and judicial best practices in the fight against all forms of sexual abuse and the abuse of women and children. We are also cognisant of the serious charges levelled against Mr Mounguengui and will abide with the judgment of the courts in Gabon. The visit by president Motsepe to Gabon was to emphasise these principles to the football leadership and the government of Gabon.”
In May the Guardian revealed that Mosengo-Omba attempted to intervene in the state investigation into Mounguengui, alleging in a letter to Nguema that Mounguengui’s arrest two weeks after he was re-elected was evidence of “a new attempt to remove Mr Mounguengui from the management of Fegafoot”. Those concerns were dismissed by Nguema, who wrote back that it “is not up to the government to instruct the justice to quickly release Mr Mounguengui, as suggested by the Caf by your care”.
In May Fifa opened formal proceedings against a former national under-17 coach, Patrick Assoumou Eyi, and three other coaches as part of its investigation into allegations of sexual abuse. All four had their provisional bans extended last month. Fifa has yet to take any action against Mounguengui.
“I am clearly disgusted to see that in this case Fifa has done much less than Gabonese justice,” said one of the alleged victims. “Where is the investigation that Fifa promised to carry out? I think the Gabonese people have the right to know.”
A Fifa spokesperson told the Guardian that he could not comment on ongoing cases.