Last week the Russian Premier League club Yenisey Krasnoyarsk signed the midfielder Babacar Sarr. On Thursday he is to stand trial in Norway, accused of rape. But will Sarr appear in court?
By Lars Johnsen
On 5 February the social media accounts of FC Yenisey Krasnoyarsk announced with a bang that the club had signed a new player. A video mixing zebras, African landscapes, random African people dancing, goals scored by the Senegalese national team and action shots from Babacar Sarr’s club career in Norway, set to the tune of Shakira’s 2010 World Cup anthem “Waka Waka (This One’s For Africa)”, was the Siberian club’s welcoming message to its new midfield acquisition.
The club’s official Instagram account posted photos taken at the team’s luxury hotel in Belek, Turkey, where the Yenisey squad is currently away on their mid-winter training camp, of a smiling Babacar Sarr together with the club’s staff holding a Yenisey jersey.
Babacar Sarr posted a video of himself being welcomed by the Russian club’s officials at their Turkish five star accommodation. In the comments section he saluted his agent Jim Solbakken.
“Thanks boss for the hard work,” the player wrote.
Jim Solbakken, clearly proud of securing a move to Russia for his client, uploaded the Yenisey welcome video to his own Instagram account.
“Congratulations signing with Yenisey,” was the agent’s message to his client.
From Solskjær to Siberia
Seven weeks prior, Solbakken had represented Ole Gunnar Solskjær when the former striker was appointed caretaker manager of Manchester United.
Their relationship stretches back decades. They formed a formidable strike partnership at Clausengen FK, a club in their hometown Kristiansund. After Solskjær signed as a player for Manchester United in 1996, Solbakken quit his job in the oil industry to become Solskjær’s agent. The two set up the player agency Dynamic Solution in 2000 which soon became the preferred agency for top young Norwegian talents. In 2008 Solskjær had to sell his stake in the company. As club employee, it violated FA regulations to own a stake in a player agency. The two best friends continued to own businesses together, including a travel agency specialising in VIP travel packages to Old Trafford.
As manager of Molde and Cardiff City, Solbakken has been involved in a majority of the signings made by Solskjær – all the while Solbakken also represented Solskjær.
FC Yenisey is midway through its first ever season in Russia’s top flight, sitting rock bottom in the table with ten points from 17 matches. It’s not surprising they were looking to strengthen their squad going into the second half of the 2018-19 campaign. That they found much-needed quality in one of the most dominant players in the Norwegian league in recent years is not surprising either.
While the player’s quality is not up for debate, the move came as a huge surprise in Norway. As soon as the signing was announced on social media, Norwegian football fans started asking questions.
Was Yenisey not aware of the fact that Babacar Sarr is due in court charged with rape? Not only is he due in court – he is due on 14 February, a short nine days after the club announced its new signing.
Had the club not been informed that their new star midfielder, if convicted, faces up to four years in prison?
Were the Russians aware that four different women have accused the player of rape?
Or were they informed, and just did not care?
Had Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s best friend Jim Solbakken made sure his client found work in a country without an extradition agreement with Norway, in order for the player to slip through net of the Norwegian justice system?
Will Babacar Sarr turn up in court?
Confiscating anti-rape banners
As far as non-footballing matters were concerned, Babacar Sarr became the story of the 2018 Norwegian season. In May 2017 a woman in Molde, northwestern Norway, filed a police report alleging Babacar Sarr had raped her at party while she was sleeping after an alcohol-fuelled night of partying. As police started investigating, the story became public.
Molde manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær told the newspaper Romsdals Budstikke in June 2017 that he saw “no reason not use the player as he was neither formally charged nor convicted.”
On 23 March 2018, as Molde was preparing for its third league match of the new season, the Norwegian state prosecutor’s office formally charged the player with rape. When the charge was announced, Solskjær refused to comment to the press and continued to field Babacar Sarr. The midfielder featured in 27 of Molde’s 30 league games through the 2018 season. The now interim boss at Manchester United even handed Sarr the captain’s armband for two matches.
“The Sarr case” dominated discussions on internet messaging boards, on social media, in pubs and elsewhere football fans meet. Wherever Molde went to play away games in 2018, they were met by anti-rape banners and chants in the stadiums. Fans made banners modelled on Amnesty’s “No Means No” campaign. Such banners were not allowed into the stands at Molde’s home ground, though. The club’s security staff routinely confiscated any material mentioning “the case,” even coming down heavy-handed on some visiting fans – as travelling Rosenborg supporters experienced in September.
What seemed like efforts to silence the matter by the club – confiscating banners, not answering press enquiries – only added fuel to what already early in the season had become a firestorm.
«Think of your child»
Babacar Sarr arrived in Norway from the Icelandic club Selfoss in 2013. He signed with IK Start, a club based in Kristiansand on Norway’s southern tip, before moving on to Sogndal the following year.
As a player with Sogndal, on an end-of-season players’ trip to Stockholm in 2015, he was accused of rape. A woman reported he had sexually abused her while she was sleeping. After investigating the allegations, Swedish police did not press charges against the player.
In July 2016 he signed for Molde and instantly became a key member of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side. According to Josimar’s sources, Molde had been well aware of the circumstances surrounding the Stockholm incident.
Under a year after Sarr’s Molde July 2016 debut, in May 2017, the alleged rape, that would lead to criminal investigation and court appearance, took place in the town of Molde.
After the state prosecutor’s office formally charged the player, the trial was scheduled for August 2018.
Two months before the trial, a woman in Oslo reported to the police that she in 2014, while sleeping, also had been raped by Babacar Sarr.
According to her, the incident took place in in the village of Sogndal, shortly after Sarr had signed for the local club.
She also claims to have been physically and mentally abused by the player, and had become pregnant as a result of the alleged rape.
«Go and die with your baby», Sarr wrote in one of the many text messages he sent the woman.
Josimar is in possession of several messages sent by him to the Oslo-based female.
Throughout the spring of 2018 she had been in frequent contact with Molde FK and the club’s executive officer Øystein Neerland. Sarr had refused to take a paternity test, and she asked the club for help. According to her, the club at first expressed a willingness to assist her. In early June she met with Sarr and the club’s player liaison officer in Oslo. During the meeting the club’s representative told her not to report the matter to the police.
“Think of your child,” the player liaison said, according to her. To this date Babacar Sarr still hasn’t taken the paternity test.
Police did not charge the player for the alleged rape and abuse, a decision heavily criticised by John Christian Elden, lawyer for the woman in Oslo, who appealed the police’s decision.
In August 2018, the Molde district court acquitted him of rape.
According to the court consisting of three judges, of which two were laymen, it was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt he had committed rape. The two laymen concluded there was doubt regarding the question of guilt. The professional judge disagreed.
The subject of Sarr being awarded the role of captain by Molde boss Ole Gunnar Solskjær came up during the Molde district court trial. In court the victim of the alleged rape cried when asked how that had made her feel.
“That he was made captain was very painful,” she said before she needed a moment to compose herself.
“I have lost everything. Then, to see someone’s status being raised. I lost everything I’ve worked for,” she said unable to hold back the tears.
Using balance of probabilities, the court ordered the defendant to pay compensation of 150 000 Norwegian kroner (around 15 000 euro) to the victim.
The prosecution immediately appealed the not guilty verdict and the second round of criminal proceedings starts on 14 February – if Babacar Sarr shows up.
In between the two court dates, Sarr was again accused of rape.
Fourth rape allegation
During a night out in Oslo a day after Molde’s last match of the 2018 season, and so far Solskjær’s last game in charge of Molde, a 3-1 win away at Sandefjord on 24 November, Sarr allegedly raped again, police files show.
According to press reports, Sarr allegedly raped the same woman twice in one night.
The Molde players had stopped over in the Norwegian capital on the way to their end-of-season trip to Barcelona.
The alleged rape from November could be used in the upcoming case in the Court of Appeals, Ingvild Thorn Nordheim from the Norwegian state prosecutor’s office told Josimar. Incidents resembling the one on trial can be used to show the defendant’s pattern of actions, she explained.
On 18 January a statement appeared on the website of Molde FK saying the player’s contract had been terminated by mutual consent, providing no further information.
“Molde FK would like to thank Babacar for his contribution as a player for Molde FK, through a difficult time for the player as well as the club,” it said. The club wished him luck now that he was free to pursue a career elsewhere.
The club had stood by the player throughout the investigation, rape charge, trial and a cloud of further rape allegations. When criticised, the club had defended its stance by saying Sarr was innocent until proven guilty. That the club now, shortly after he was accused of another rape, had come to an agreement with the player to terminate the player’s contract, gave room for speculation.
Why now? After all, the player’s status as innocent until proven guilty hadn’t actually changed. What changed the club’s view on the matter?
Were they aware of the November 2018 rape allegations, and what role did the allegations play in the decision to release him?
Was the player looking for new employment with a club in a country without extradition agreement with Norway?
Has the player received compensation from the club for releasing him – thereby paying way for him to avoid a possible prison sentence?
Molde FK chief executive Øystein Neerland has not responded to our repeated requests for comment.
It would only take a meagre three weeks after the termination of the contract for the player to be given an opportunity to “pursue a career elsewhere,” a move in which Jim Solbakken played a pivotal role.
Silence from the player’s representatives
With the exception on Duncan Ferguson’s transfer from Scottish club Rangers FC to English side Everton in 1994, where “Big Dunc” was due in court in Scotland on an assault charge, Josimar is unaware of instances where a club belonging to a UEFA member nation has signed a player awaiting criminal trial and a possible long prison sentence in another European country.
Public prosecutor Ingvild Thorn Nordheim tells Josimar her team will proceed as if the player was still in Norway.
“I have been assured by both the player’s agent [Jim Solbakken] and his lawyer [Mette Yvonne Larsen] that the defendant will show up for the trial.”
“We’re surprised by [Sarr’s new contract in Russia] considering he might spend four years in a Norwegian prison, but we assume, as the defence has guaranteed, that he will turn up for the trial on 14 February,” John Christian Elden, lawyer for the appellant, tells Josimar.
Neither Sarr’s lawyer Mette Yvonne Larsen nor his agent Jim Solbakken have responded to Josimar’s repeated phone calls and text messages.
Josimar sent several questions to FC Yenisey. They responded with a short comment from the club’s press officer:
“Our club is guided by the presumption of innocence. Until the court’s decision, we consider it incorrect to give any comments.”