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Alleged sexual abuse victim in Gabon upset at Fifa’s handling of case

An alleged victim of sexual abuse in Gabon has questioned why Fifa and the Confederation of African Football have still not suspended the president of the country’s football association while they continue to investigate claims that he failed to report “crimes of paedophilia”.

Pierre-Alain Mounguengui is awaiting trial in Gabon after spending almost six months in police custody last year. He 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.

There is no suggestion Mounguengui – who was re-elected as Fegafoot’s president for a third term last April and became a member of CAF’s executive committee in June – has been accused of sexual abuse himself. He has not commented on the charges.

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Fifa opened formal proceedings in May last year against the former Gabon under-17 coach Patrick Assoumou Eyi – known as Capello – and three other coaches as part of its investigation into allegations of sexual abuse but has yet to take any action against Mounguengui. According to Fifa’s child safeguarding policy, “suspending a staff member from his/her duties while an external investigation takes place should be standard practice”.

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An alleged victim, speaking anonymously to protect hisidentity, told the BBC: “So, they arrested Capello but how long have they known and not done anything about it? They stopped at the lowest level. It goes all the way to the top, but they will do anything to cover it up. Capello is a scapegoat. It is the heads at the top that should be rolling.”

The former Gabon international Rémy Ebanega, who set up the country’s first professional football players’ union in 2014, questioned ina BBC documentary about the sexual abuse scandal, released on Monday, why Fifa did nothing when Mounguengui was held in custody. “Why was he not also suspended while investigations are ongoing like they did with Capello? He continued to manage the federation while he was in prison. I don’t think that has ever happened elsewhere.”

Loïc Alves, a senior legal counsel at Fifpro – the global union for professional football players – who has worked on the case, said: “The severity of the alleged cover-up should have triggered an automatic suspension, temporary suspension, before the election.”

Fifa did not respond directly to a question from the Guardian regarding why Mounguengui has not been suspended but said that “due process” had been followed throughout its investigation.

“The Fifa Ethics Committee is currently investigating the alleged abuses, and has taken the task to gather the necessary evidence to meet the established standard and burden of proof to sanction any illegal, immoral and unethical behaviour of the persons covered under the Fifa Code of Ethics,” it said in a statement.

“As soon as the allegations surfaced the Fifa Safeguarding team was immediately in touch with Fegafoot to support them in strengthening their capacity and relevant procedures to better address the problem of sexual abuse and harassment.”

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The BBC’s Africa Eye spoke to more than 30 witnesses about shocking allegations stretching back more than 30 years. Eyi remains in prison awaiting sentencing after he admitted charges of raping, grooming and exploiting young players. The other arrested coaches have denied the allegations made against them.

Mounguengui was arrested three weeks after being re-elected as Fegafoot president. He continued to manage the federation from prison and was visited by the CAF president, Patrice Motsepe, before being provisionally released. CAF told the BBC that Motsepe visited Gabon primarily to emphasise the organisation’s zero tolerance to sexual abuse and to support investigating authorities.

Fifpro has questioned why Fegafoot was allowed to lead the initial investigation given the accusations made constituted a “conflict of interest at every level”. “How could a victim trust the same institution that has abused them?” Alves asked.

Fegafoot and Mounguengui have denied all the allegations made against them in the BBC film and said appropriate action was taken as soon as any allegations of sexual abuse in Gabonese football were made public.