Hotel sex row threatens diplomatic ties
By Thabiso Thakali and Kashiefa Ajam
There were no prostitutes and there was no sex orgy in a Johannesburg hotel involving a top African soccer team.
This is what Egyptian diplomats were expecting the South African police to announce - and provide evidence - at a press conference on Saturday.
And, if the five Sunday newspapers who went to press on claims that the Egyptian team went on a sex and drink binge with prostitutes at their hotel last Thursday do not retract their stories and apologise, the Egyptian government has threatened to get involved diplomatically and legally.
The row broke out in the media last week when the Saturday Star reported how thousands of US dollars had been stolen from several players' rooms.
On Friday night, Egypt's deputy head of mission in South Africa, Mohamed Heider, confirmed the demand, saying the truth would be revealed at Saturday's press conference.
This week the Saturday Star independently and reliably established from staff at the Protea Wanderers Hotel that seven housekeeping staff had been dismissed following the alleged burglary of five of the Egyptian team members' rooms.
Police were expected to release a full statement on Saturday as well the video footage of the Egyptian team's movements at the hotel on the night, which will show that there had never been prostitutes in the bar or in the corridors leading to the team's rooms.
Earlier this week, Protea Wanderers released a statement that their staff had been questioned by police. This investigation had established the players were not in their rooms when the theft occurred.
On Friday night, the management at the hotel once again refused to speak to the Saturday Star when they were asked whether the seven housekeeping staff had been fired or suspended for their alleged involvement in the theft.
Some of the hotel staff to whom the Saturday Star spoke said the seven had been fired, while others said they had only been suspended.
One staffer told the Saturday Star that the suspended employees - assigned to attend to the players' rooms - had been questioned and "tested" by the police.
"We were instructed not to speak to anyone about the incident or even confirm to anyone that the Egyptian team had been in this hotel. We were warned that anyone who was found to have spoken about it will answer to the police."
Asked if the housekeeping staff were guilty of theft, the staffer replied: "You never know, some of these young people don't have respect and don't realise how lucky they are to have a job."
Another staff member said that on the night of the incident, some of the Egyptian players had been flirting and drinking with female guests they had met in the hotel bar.
"They came back from their match," the staffer said, referring to the Egyptians' win over Italy last Thursday. "They were celebrating with a group of girls who were also booked into the hotel. Although some of the players couldn't speak English properly, you could see that they were getting along well with the girls.
"Afterwards the girls and the players left and went upstairs. I don't know whether the girls went to their own rooms or if they went with the players to theirs."
The staffer added that the young women looked "ordinary" and not at all like prostitutes.
A security guard, meanwhile, said the Egyptian team had tight security and it would have been difficult for anyone from outside to have gone into the players' rooms.
"As far as I know, not even relatives of the players who are not booked in the hotel are allowed into their rooms," the guard said.
One Sunday newspaper memorably claimed that the "horny Egypt players" had brought five prostitutes from Oxford Road to their rooms, where who were suspected of having stolen $2 400 (R18 900).
Another Sunday paper in turn reported that the soccer players may have been having a party in one of their rooms before the female guests made off with their money.
The Egyptian delegation is adamant, though - it wants a formal apology from the newspapers and a full report from the police concerning these "false and shameful" allegations, it said in a statement.
"We are disappointed with the false accusations that were published in some of the South African newspapers concerning the theft incident quoting an anonymous top police security official.
"Security officials should have been focused on their duties: (conducting) thorough investigations and reporting the results. After what was published by the newspapers, we are demanding a formal statement from the police department to either deny these allegations or to provide us with evidence they have (if there is any)."
Rich Mkhondo, 2010 Fifa World Cup local organising committee spokesperson, meanwhile said the committee had never mentioned anything about prostitutes being at the hotel with the Egyptian players.
"Our official position has always been that we have no comment on this incident and we have referred all inquiries to the South African Police Service, who have been investigating the matter," he said.