Ex-soccer star sought in sex case in Howard Britain's Fashanu becomes the focus of international search

May 01, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF Sun foreign correspondent Bill Glauber contributed to this article.

Howard County police have launched an international search for a former English soccer star who has been charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old Columbia boy.

Justin Fashanu -- who has made more headlines in the British tabloids than the sports pages in recent years -- was set to coach a new minor-league professional soccer team in Columbia before he disappeared last month.

Since then, detectives have been quietly trying to locate Fashanu, a well-known name to English soccer fans -- in part because he was considered a star of the future in the early 1980s and in part because he came out as openly gay in 1990.

But detectives have been unable to find the 36-year-old. They believe he has fled the country, according to a police source familiar with the investigation.

That source said detectives have alerted federal and international agencies about the charges facing Fashanu, who caused a media frenzy in 1994 after claiming he had sexual encounters with members of Britain's Parliament. He later retracted the story that he had sold to a British tabloid.

Police have charged Fashanu with second-degree sexual assault, first-degree assault and second-degree assault in connection with an alleged incident March 25, according to court records.

"We really want him back," said the source. "This is a serious incident. We had enough evidence to charge him, obviously."

Fashanu was a vocal soccer star whose career has covered the globe. He moved to Ellicott City in February and was slated to coach a Columbia team, Maryland Mania, according to the club's president A. J. Ali.

The sexual assault charges stem from an alleged incident in Fashanu's Ellicott City apartment, where he was entertaining five people the evening of March 24, police said.

The Columbia youth apparently met Fashanu through mutual friends, all under age 21, said the alleged victim's mother.

According to court documents, that evening Fashanu and five young men and women were drinking beer at his apartment. The alleged victim fell asleep there and awoke the next morning to find a man performing a sexual act on him, court documents say. The alleged victim immediately left the apartment. A medical examination revealed evidence of a sexual assault, court documents show.

"He came home crying," said the mother. "He didn't want to go to the hospital, but I eventually convinced him."

Detectives questioned Fashanu the next day, police said, but he apparently fled later that week before he was formally charged April 3, telling the president of the Mania -- which was paying his expenses -- that he was leaving because "he needed time for personal reasons."

"You can't have a coach that leaves and doesn't tell us when he's coming back," said Ali, whose team is scheduled to begin play next spring. "He was an excellent coach, though."

The alleged victim, who dropped out of high school in February, works as a mover, his mother said.

The Sun does not print the names of sexual assault victims.

According to newspaper accounts, Fashanu was a stellar but troubled soccer player. In 1980, he scored a goal for Norwich against Liverpool that was voted one of the best in history and is still a staple of soccer highlight reels. In 1983, his career at the top level of the sport was ended by a severe knee injury.

Since then, he has played for a variety of clubs, in the United States, Canada and New Zealand, making periodic returns to British teams.

In 1994, while playing for a Scottish club, he was fired after retracting the claims of participating in gay sex orgies with members of Britain's government.

"I haven't seen or heard from him for 6 1/2 to seven years," his brother, John Fashanu, said yesterday. "No one knows where he is. I am greatly concerned and saddened by these allegations and pray to God they are not true."

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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