President of Gabon league accused of sexually abusing young footballers

Serge Mombo, a leading football official in Gabon, has been accused of sexually abusing young players and demanding sex as a condition of them securing places in national teams.

Mombo was re-elected as president of La Ligue de l’Estuaire, Gabon’s senior football league, in June 2021. He is also set to serve as the kit man for Gabon’s senior men’s team at the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon, which begins on Sunday. Mombo, a former policeman, denied the abuse claims, made by alleged victims and witnesses to the Guardian.

He also denied claims he provided a Gabonese football coach, Patrick Assoumou Eyi, known as “Capello”, with boys to sexually abuse. Eyi, like Mombo a senior figure in the Gabonese football federation Fegafoot, is facing charges of raping minors and sexual assault after claims by alleged victims were reported by the Guardian. Two other coaches in Gabon are also facing charges.

Mombo said his accusers were “lying to try to dirty my image.”

One alleged victim said he was abused by Mombo and Capello in 2014 at the Heliconia hotel in Libreville, the capital of Gabon, during a training camp. “He was there, choosing some boys. We didn’t really understand why he was so powerful. Some players had to call him coach but he was a kit man. It was very weird. He did his dirty game with Capello.”

The alleged victim said Mombo would give the first three pieces of watermelon to three boys they would then invite to a room to be abused. “The same night, Mombo came to my room and told me to go to Capello’s bedroom. He didn’t say more and didn’t give me the choice. It was almost 10 at night. Capello waited for me without a T-shirt. He told me that I was talented but in order to support the pressure, I would need ‘la présence d’esprit’ [presence of mind].”

He added: “Capello and Mombo worked together on this. Mombo came with us on the away trips, in the same plane. He came to see us, told he could help us. I remember after a game at home that he told me: ‘If you want to play, you’ll need to give me what I want. I can make your career, even with the senior national team.’

“I came from a poor family, I was thinking about it. I’m shameful but it was my only way to help my family, you know, so I accepted his first offer. I was selected the next time but I felt so bad. Physically, emotionally, they ruined me. When I refused to go further I wasn’t selected any more with the national team.”

Another former player who claimed he was abused by both Eyi and Mombo when he represented Gabon’s Under-17s in 2017 said the official attempted to proposition him with promises of a place in the starting lineup.

“In the national team, Serge Mombo was a predator,” he said. “He offered us sexual propositions in exchange for a place in the team in the future. They picked us, they gave us some advantages: money, gifts and also the privilege to play for our country.

“When you start to like it, to dream, they asked for sex. Basically, he told me: ‘If you want to stay with us, you’ll need to give me something.’ I asked what and he answered: ‘Your arse.’ He even offered me money if I wanted … I am a victim of both.”

Both of these alleged victims have said Mombo was also working as a kit man for all of Gabon’s national youth teams. This is denied by Mombo.

Mombo denied the claims of sexual abuse and said that he had “never worked with this Capello in a national team. I met him as a DTP [provincial technical director] when I was elected to the league”. “Never and never,” he added. “ Of course they are lying to try to dirty my image.”

The former Gabon international Brice Makaya served as assistant to Eyi with the Under-17s in 2014 and told the Guardian that Mombo regularly travelled with the squad and the Fegafoot president, Pierre-Alain Mounguengui, to tournaments.

“Mombo was the all-powerful kit man of the Gabonese football federation’s kit men. He managed the kits for managers of all age-groups of the national selections. In the under-17s when we had trips he was travelling with Mounguengui and acting as the law, and sometimes he was the decision maker.”

Makaya has claimed that on a trip to Ethiopia, he informed Mounguengui of his suspicions that Eyi had been abusing players but was told “you don’t have proof”. “When he told me to calm down and there’s nothing he’ll do, I understood that it’s a system,” he said.

Mounguengui did not respond to requests from comment from the Guardian.

Another alleged witness has claimed they heard Mombo asking a young boy to perform a sex act on him if he wanted to be selected for the national team. “Mombo was on the phone and I was 10 metres away,” he said.

The alleged witness has also claimed that Mombo confiscated the passports of players from Gabon’s Under-20 women’s team after they reported accusations of rape, abuse and sexual harassment. “He threatened them if they wanted to talk about sexual abuse,’ he added.

Mombo did not respond directly to a question about whether he had confiscated players’ passports. But he added: “I promise you that if I have information on the various predators that have killed the lives and careers of some, I will communicate it to you; together we must save our football. Especially young people. I am also doing investigations at my level. If I have news, I will share it with you some time.”

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