Lawyer for Afghan football ex-chief hits out at charges

Kabul (AFP) –


A lawyer for the disgraced former head of the Afghan Football Federation hit back Wednesday against sexual abuse allegations targeting his client, saying they were based on "ghost stories" fuelled by the #MeToo movement.

Keramuddin Karim has been accused of sexually assaulting and threatening female players, including by holding a gun to one's head, in allegations first reported by Britain's Guardian newspaper last November.

The allegations, which Karim has denied, led to an investigation by world football's governing body FIFA, which last month found Karim guilty of having abused his position and having sexually abused various female players.

FIFA banned him from all football-related activity for life and fined him 1 million Swiss francs (around US$1 million).

Separately, Afghan prosecutors in May issued an arrest warrant for Karim following their own investigation into him and other officials, but he has not yet come forward.

On Wednesday, Ivo Sigmond, a Dutch lawyer representing Karim, said he had met with several female players in Kabul and reviewed evidence against his client.

"My conclusion up to now, every time we look into (an) allegation... if you push against the facts, a totally different story shows up," Sigmond said at a press conference in Kabul.

"We are talking about ghost stories, anonymous people making allegations."

He also criticised FIFA's ruling against Karim.

"Up to now, the evidence doesn't lead to any standard of proof," he said.

The whereabouts of Karim, who is under a travel ban, are unknown. Sigmond said he was suffering from heart problems and knee pain.

The interior ministry, which would be responsible for arresting Karim, did not immediately comment.

Sigmond said the case against his client looked like a social-media-fuelled "Me Too nightmare", a reference to the online movement in which women highlighted personal experiences of abuse or harassment.

Afghan footballer Khalida Popal -- who reportedly had collected accounts from former teammates that included sexual violence, death threats and rapes -- has applauded FIFA's ruling but said it was only a "first step."