Indian athlete who got high-level help for U.S. visa now accused of sexual assault

CHANDIGARH, India — It was a long journey for Indian snowshoe champion Tanveer Hussain and his team manager to the World Snowshoe Championships in Saranac Lake, N.Y., last weekend.

The two men were initially denied visas to travel to the United States in the chaotic days following the Trump administration’s travel ban. The reasons for the rejections remain unclear — India is not among the seven countries named in Trump’s executive order — but after the intervention of Saranac Lake’s mayor and the office of Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi reversed its decision.

Hussain and team manager Abid Khan arrived Feb. 23 in the bucolic Adirondacks town, which had been following their visa ordeal and extended them a hero’s welcome. Locals offered congratulations and free lodging at an inn that in the snow looked like a “fairy tale scene from a movie,” Khan said in a Facebook post.

The “fairy tale” was shattered Wednesday when Hussain, 24, was arrested and charged with felony sexual abuse and child welfare endangerment, police said.

The parents of the 12-year-old girl who was allegedly involved said the incident happened Monday, after the three-day snowshoe competition, and reported it to local authorities.

Chief Charles A. Potthast Jr. of the Saranac Lake Village police force said the girl was playing pool Monday afternoon with other young people at the inn where Hussain was staying.

“There was a moment when the two were alone, and that’s when the incident occurred,” Potthast said. The girl told police that there was a “passionate kiss” and that Hussain touched her in an intimate area on top of her clothing.

Hussain remains jailed on $10,000 bond. Khan said the athlete told him that he did nothing wrong.

Muddasir Mir, president of the SnowShoe Federation of India, said the next court hearing is set for Monday. “It’s an unfortunate situation, both for the community there in the U.S. who supported us and the federation,” Mir said. “We have full faith in the American law, and as there is a court proceeding going on, that is going to be my only comment.”

Hussain hails from the Indian side of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is predominantly Muslim. He placed in the top 50 at the World Snowshoe Championships last year in Italy, Mir said, but failed to place in the top 100 this year.

Hussain’s brother, Yunus Ali, said the family has not been able to speak to Hussain since the arrest.

“In Kashmir, we have a tradition of showing love to children. We hug and kiss a child here, and our society doesn’t see it as a crime,” he said.

Hussain and Khan said they were indirect victims of the U.S. travel ban when their first attempt to procure visas was turned down in late January, the first business day after the ban was put in place. Khan told the BBC that an employee at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi said they were being rejected because of “current policy.”

U.S. officials said at the time that the denials were not connected to the travel ban. The embassy in New Delhi had no comment.

Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, a key supporter of the men, said in a statement that the community was “understandably shocked” by the allegations against Hussain.

Mir had said that the visas would not have been issued without the “personal efforts” of Schumer and New York’s other Democratic senator, Kirsten Gillibrand. On Feb. 25, Schumer celebrated Hussain’s “rock star” welcome in a Facebook post, saying that the United States is “still a country that welcomes athletes from across the globe to compete in our stadiums, our snow-covered fields and everywhere in between.”

A spokesman for Schumer said the senator helped with the visa process at the request of Saranac Lake and described the charges against Hussain as “extremely troubling.”

A spokesman for Gillibrand said the senator thinks the charges are “extremely serious.”

During their time in Saranac Lake, Hussein and his coach were honored with a special reception by the mayor and gave a talk about Kashmir at Saranac Lake Middle School, where students had waged a letter-writing campaign on their behalf. “Pack your bags. Next year you are coming to Kashmir,” Hussain told them, according to one of Khan’s Facebook posts.

Ishfaq Naseem in Kashmir contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier headline on this article incorrectly linked the denial of a U.S. visa for Tanveer Hussain to President Trump’s travel ban. India was not one of the seven countries affected by the ban.

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