King of Jordan intervenes in Paralympian sex case in Northern Ireland

 

The king of Jordan is taking a personal interest in the case of three members of his country's Paralympic team accused of sex offences during pre-Games training in Northern Ireland, a court heard today.

The Arab administration promised to bring the men back before the court in Coleraine, Co Londonderry, if bail was granted, district judge Richard Wilson was told.

He later released the three men on combined bail and sureties of £5,500 each. They have to make weekly contact with the Jordanian embassy in London before their next appearance in court on October 18.

Two wheelchair-using power-lifters - one a bronze medal winner at the Beijing Games - and a trainer have been accused of a series of charges, including sexual assault and voyeurism, following complaints by two girls and two women in Antrim.

The Jordanian team has been training in the town, about 22 miles from Belfast, in advance of the Paralympic Games starting next week.

The three were detained on Monday for questioning by detectives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

A representative of the Jordanian government, counsellor Rulan Samara from the London embassy, told the court: "His majesty the King of Jordan (King Abdullah the Second) was inquiring about the matter and was asking about all the details."

She promised that the accused would be brought back for future court appearances in Northern Ireland by her government and offered a surety.

Power lifter Omar Sami Qaradhi, 31, lives in Barbados. He faces three charges of sexual assault, two against a child, and one of voyeurism after allegedly entering a women's changing room at the Antrim Forum leisure centre.

Police said he was identified by a girl aged 14 who claimed that on August 18 she posed for photos with him before he groped her between the legs in Antrim town centre.

The same day, a girl aged 16 said she was walking along the river path beside Antrim Forum, one of Northern Ireland's largest multi-sports centres, with a friend when their path was blocked by the three accused.

Police alleged that the girl was pushed by one of the men towards Omar, who placed his arm around her waist, tightening his grip, but then she ran away.

Tony Cahir, a solicitor for three accused, said Omar had not had any legs since birth and was incapable of sexual gratification.

Trainer Faisal Hammash, 35, is accused of inciting two girls to engage in sexual activity.

Mr Cahir said he was merely photographing the girls in the Antrim area, including on a riverside walk beside the Antrim Forum.

Power lifter Motaz Al Junaidi, 45, who won bronze at the last Paralympics in Beijing, is accused of sexual assault.

One of the alleged victims came forward and made claims against Motaz after police had begun their investigation and several days after the disputed incident.

Mr Cahir said wheelchair user Motaz was born with polio. He is married with four children.

He added: "Now the authorities seek to deny him that opportunity which is his life's ambition, to participate in the Paralympic Games and hopefully win a gold medal for his country.

"The consequences of denial of bail are quite disproportionate to the alleged hurt suffered."

Mr Cahir said there was a dearth of evidence on a number of the counts.

The Jordanian delegation arrived in Northern Ireland on August 8. The alleged offences took place between August 16 and 20.

Mr Cahir said Jordan was concerned and embarrassed by the allegations and was anxious to ensure that the athletes were permitted to participate in London.

In granting bail, the judge said he had listened very carefully to the assurances given by the Jordanian authorities and said the embarrassment over a non-appearance would greatly outweigh the monetary loss.

"I trust the assurances that have been given to me by the ambassador (Ms Samara) are such that that would not be required," said Mr Wilson.

The Jordanian Olympic and Paralympic committees both expressed regret at the charges and said they had confidence the defendants would get a fair hearing.

In a statement, the Jordan Olympic Committee said: "The Jordan Olympic Committee (JOC) deeply regrets hearing of these charges and treats allegations of this nature with the utmost seriousness because we have a zero tolerance on any misconduct.

"The JOC has full confidence in the British justice system and will remain in close contact with the Jordan Paralympic Committee, which has been co-operating with the Northern Irish authorities in their investigation.

"We are following developments closely through the Jordan embassy in the UK, which is providing consular support to the delegation on the ground."

The Jordan Paralympic Committee added: "The president and board of the Jordan Paralympic Committee (JPC) wish to convey their deep sense of regret and shock at the charges that have been lodged against three members of the Jordanian Paralympic team in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

"The JPC is confident that the court will act promptly and fairly in adjudicating the case. At the same time the JPC fully appreciates the severity of the charges and in no way wishes to belittle the matter in any way, shape or form.

"The JPC denounces in the strongest terms possible all types of harassment and abuse, and wishes to reaffirm that this type of abhorrent behaviour is totally and utterly unacceptable and is to be condemned at all times."

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