Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, a member of CAF’s executive committee and president of the Central African Republic FA, has been arrested in France and charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, torture and the recruitment of child soldiers.
Even by African football’s current standards – a number of its senior officials face anti-corruption investigations in their own countries – Ngaïssona’s arrest raises to whole new levels questions about the governance of its football body whose leadership have proved the major support powerbase of FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
Ngaïssona was only elected to the Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) executive committee in February this year, mainly with the support and lobbying of CAF president Ahmad Ahmad, and a little help from Infantino. Not all of CAF’s federations were comfortable with his appointment,
Ngaïssona’s background has not been kept secret, more overlooked, but CAF and by association FIFA have found no issue with his membership of the governing bodies of the sport. Nevertheless, whichever way you look at it, Ngaïssona has a disturbing CV.
Describing himself as the “political coordinator” of the Christian anti-balaka militias, French intelligence sources have said he led a well-equipped armed faction, composed in particular of officers of the Central African Armed Forces and former members of the presidential guard, operating mainly in Boy-Rabe.
The anti-Balaka militas rose up in 2013 to counter the Muslim rebel group Seleka in the majority Christian country after President Francois Bozize was ousted. Thousands were killed in the subsequent clashes and the United Nations (UN) says more than a million people have been forced to flee their homes.
Under Bozize Ngaïssona had been a minister of sport and a member of parliament. In 2014 he founded the Central African Party for Unity and Development (PCUD), which issued a press release claiming that the armed group headed by Ngaissona “is only a popular resistance to the invasion of CAR by mercenaries of the Seleka coalition”. War crimes investigators think otherwise. CAF and FIFA don’t seem to have cared either way.
In the football world Ngaissona did over see a resurgence of football in the Central African Republic. However, even in football he courted controversy, having been detained by Egyptian Airport Customs leaving the country after a CAF Congress with $90,000 in cash.
He was travelling under a diplomatic passport and was allowed to leave the country with the cash, apparently explaining that it was his money that CAF had been trying to transfer to him but without success.
Now facing extradition, Ngaissona’s next stop looks likely to be the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
A CAF spokesperson told the BBC that the football body had no position on his arrest, adding: “Let justice do its job.”
It will be interesting to see how FIFA’s own Ethics function chooses to move on this case and if it takes any interest in how Ngaissona came to assume such a high power-broking position in world football. Even if new FIFA’s statutes don’t have a section dealing with warlords (perhaps they should considering some of the characters in the current president’s friendship group) there is still the $90,000 of someone’s money Ngaissona trousered at the CAF Congress.