Gabonese football coach arrested on suspicion of sexual abuse

A long-serving coach who is facing claims he raped, groomed and exploited young players has been arrested in Gabon on suspicion of sexual abuse.

Patrick Assoumou Eyi – known as “Capello” – has been accused of abusing boys in his previous post as the head coach of Gabon’s under-17 team and in his current role as the technical director for La Ligue de l’Estuaire, the country’s highest league.

Eyi was was arrested on Monday by police in Ntoum, 25 miles from the capital, Libreville. Last week he was provisionally suspended by Fegafoot, the Gabonese Football Federation, pending an investigation, after accusations by alleged victims were reported by the Guardian.

Eyi did not respond to requests for comment from the Guardian ahead of the publication of last week’s article. Eyi has since denied the accusations against him and insisted that he was “a victim of my skills”.

“I am not the man described to you, which is why in your investigations you will only find embittered, jealous people who live in the imagination,” he told the BBC. “What is happening in Gabonese football, can it be summed up by me alone?”

Eyi has also been suspended from his role as general secretary of the AEEFG, Gabon’s Association of Football Coaches and Educators, pending the outcome of Fegafoot’s investigation. The government is to hold a judicial investigation into possible sexual abuse against children and young people in all sports in the country after president Ali Bongo described the claims as “a very serious matter”.

Since the Guardian’s article was published several more alleged victims have come forward to claim they were also abused by Eyi, with the former Gabon internationals Brice Makaya and Armand Ossey also claiming they were aware he had abused players.

Makaya, a former striker who helped Gabon to qualify for their first Africa Cup of Nations in 1994 before also serving as assistant coach to Eyi with the under-17s in 2014, said that he reported his concerns to Fegafoot that year but they were ignored.

“Patrick Assoumou Eyi has repeatedly sexually assaulted children,” he told the Guardian. “Everyone inside Gabonese football was aware. I was a part of that system and I denounced his acts several times. I even denounced him several times to the federal bureau of Fegafoot.”

In response, a statement from Fegafoot said: “The current executive committee was elected in March 2014. A few months later, the new executive committee put an end to the function of coach of Mr Assoumou Eyi and Brice Mackaya. The latter never communicated accusations, suspicions, or denounced facts of this nature to the new executive committee.”

Alleged victims of the coach have now been invited to submit their testimonies as part of an investigation being conducted by Fegafoot’s independent ethics committee – a process that will be open until 31 December.

Ossey, another former striker who spent most of his career in France and represented Gabon at the Afcon in 2000, alleged that Eyi’s abuse stretches back to the start of his career in the early 1990s when he coached regional youth sides.

“I know Capello very well. He was close to getting me, I admit it,” he said. “Gabon is a small country, we all know who has done what. It is an open secret.”

The players’ union, the National Association of Professional Footballers of Gabon, has also received testimonies from young alleged victims who claim to have been abused and is in the process of setting up support systems. Meanwhile, the Gabonese club Tout Puissant Akwembé have suspended their coach Orphé Mickala after he was accused on social media of sexually abusing young players. The Guardian attempted to contact Mickala for comment.