Footballs lost fugitive: The story of Babacar Sarr
Babacar Sarr is a 29-year-old footballer who’s played in top teams across the globe, including in one of the world’s highest paying leagues.
He’s also a fugitive, wanted in a rape case in Norway and the subject of an international arrest warrant.
He maintains his innocence and now has dropped off the radar.
Sarr is a Senegalese midfielder who built his reputation in Norwegian football, before playing in the top leagues in Russia and Saudi Arabia.
He was a star player at Molde, a top league Norwegian club he joined in 2016. He played there for about two years when the club was managed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – who’s now the manager of Manchester United.
‘He was the engine of the team’
“Sarr was the engine, the motor of the team in a way,” says Lars Johnsen, a journalist from Josimar, an independent online football magazine based in Norway.
“He had all these qualities, was good on the ball – everything,” he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.
But while his career flourished, Sarr faced multiple allegations of rape.
He was first accused in 2015, when he was playing for another Norwegian team. He was accused of raping a woman during an end-of-season trip to Stockholm. Police investigated but didn’t press charges.
After the move to Molde, Sarr faced further accusations of rape. He denies all the allegations against him.
In March 2018, he was charged for the first time, with a rape that allegedly took place at an after-party in an apartment in Molde in 2017.
Newsbeat spoke with the alleged victim who claims she woke to find him “on top of her”.
Sarr continued to play for Molde before his trial, leading to anti-rape campaigners turning up at the team’s matches with banners saying “No Means No”, and anti-rape chants being sung at games.
After a joint criminal and civil trial, Sarr was found not guilty in August 2018 of the criminal charge.
But he was ordered to pay his accuser compensation of 150,000 Norwegian kroner (around £12,500) after the court ruled in her favour on the civil claim. Both sides appealed against the result.
Sarr’s Molde contract was cancelled by mutual consent in January 2019. At the time, Norwegian papers reported that the club thanked him for his contribution “through a difficult time for the player as well as the club”.
The prosecution’s appeal hearing against his acquittal was set for February 2019. But it had to be delayed, because both the defendant and a witness didn’t appear in court.
In Norway, a criminal trial can’t go ahead for serious crimes if the suspect isn’t there, which is different to the UK.
By this time, he was more than 4,000 miles away, in Siberia, Russia.
‘A huge mistake by the police’
In February 2019, Sarr signed for Yenisey Krasnoyarsk, a team in the Russian Premier League.
The extradition process between Russia and other countries is known to be complicated.
Then in June last year, just before he was due to appear in court in Norway for the rescheduled appeal hearing, Sarr signed for another club, this time in Saudi Arabia.
Around the same time, it emerged that Norwegian prosecutors had issued an international arrest warrant for him through Interpol, the organisation that helps police across the world work together on serious crimes.
He joined Damac FC, a team on the rise in the Saudi top division, moving to a country where there is no extradition treaty with Norway. That means there was no agreement between those countries to send Sarr back to Norway for his case to be heard again in court.
But then in January, Sarr’s contract with Damac FC was suddenly cancelled before the end of the season.
Damac didn’t respond when Radio 1 Newsbeat asked why that was.
Around the same time, it emerged that he’d been charged with a second rape – one that was alleged to have taken place in Oslo, at Molde’s end-of-season party in November 2018.
That second charge was recently dropped because Oslo police failed to notify Babacar Sarr within three months after being asked by prosecutors – the time limit allowed under Norwegian law.
The Oslo state prosecutor’s office told us that the police were “unsuccessful in their attempts at serving the indictment on Mr Sarr”.
This has been described by a senior law professor at the University of Bergen as “a huge mistake by the police”.
Oslo police responded to Newsbeat saying they were unable to comment on cases that have been transferred to prosecutors.
It’s from January this year that Sarr’s whereabouts become less clear.
No other club appears to have signed him.
There have been no sightings of him since the last of his 13 games with Damac.
A tweet that Damac had posted celebrating Sarr joining when he was signed last year appears to have been deleted, and Newsbeat could find no other references to him on the club’s account.
Sarr’s Instagram account, which was public, is now private.
Sarr’s story has been in the news last month after one of his alleged victims told the Daily Telegraph that she thinks Solskjaer is “not fit to lead” Manchester United after his decision to keep playing Sarr at Molde after his original charge.
She thinks that football players charged with sexual assaults should not be allowed to continue playing until the case has been resolved.
“It’s about the signal it sends, especially when it’s someone’s kids who looks up to them,” she says.
Manchester United told The Telegraph that Solskjaer fully respected the due process of the Norwegian legal system.