Afghanistan's fugitive former football chief, wanted over the sexual abuse of women players, rejected all charges against him in a defiant public appearance on Friday, just days after security forces bungled a raid to arrest him.
Keramuddin Karim, who appeared in public for the first time Friday in about two years, was found guilty by global governing body FIFA last year of assaulting several women footballers, with the verdict upheld in July by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Afghan authorities issued an arrest warrant for Karim last year, but he has remained at large.
On August 23, a team of special forces bungled a nighttime raid to arrest Karim in Panjshir province, north of the capital Kabul, where he is believed to be hiding.
During that operation, Afghan forces clashed with local residents who prevented the raid from succeeding, officials said.
On Friday, Karim made a defiant appearance in front of villagers and tribal leaders in the village of Malaspa in Panjshir, an AFP photographer said.
"I am neither a fugitive nor a criminal," said Karim, dressed in a traditional shalwar kameez tunic and jacket as he addressed the gathering.
"I will prove that I have not committed any crime... I will accept any punishment if I am proven guilty in a court that is just and fair, otherwise these are just political accusations."
Five female Afghan players accused Karim of committing sexual assault between 2013 and 2018.
"These girls were bribed, they were offered asylum in Western countries in return for making accusations against me," Karim said on Friday.
Karim has previously also denounced the accusations as part of a "conspiracy" that had no evidence.
In its judgment upholding the FIFA verdict, the Court of Arbitration for Sport's panel said Karim had "violated basic human rights and damaged the mental and physical dignity and integrity of young female players".
"With his appalling acts, he had destroyed not only their careers, but severely damaged their lives," the CAS statement said.
FIFA delivered its toughest sanction against Karim: a life ban and a fine of 1 million Swiss francs (at the time equaling approximately $1 million or 934,000 euros).