US Olympic doctor charged over sex abuse of athletes


Chicago (AFP)

A former doctor to gymnasts from successive US Olympic teams is to stand trial on charges that he sexually assaulted female athletes, some younger than 13, over almost two decades.

A Michigan court on Friday ruled that Larry Nassar, a member of USA Gymnastics from 1996 to 2015, will face 17 counts of criminal sexual conduct.

The 53-year-old, who maintained a practice at Michigan State University before he was fired last year, is accused of abusing his position to assault young girls.

The charges, which he denies, followed three days of hearings, during which six female accusers testified.

At Friday's final hearing, Judge Donald Allen Jr watched video of a police interview with Nassar in which he claimed the acts that one alleged victim considered assault were in fact medical treatment.

The judge said the video helped corroborate some statements made by Nassar's accusers, and that the doctor's words helped establish enough cause to take the case to trial.

Nassar served as the US gymnastics team's doctor through four Olympic Games.

Law enforcement officials have accused him of using his position with the governing body that sets rules and selects US Olympic gymnasts to sexually assault dozens of athletes and other patients over decades.

Former athletes who accuse Nassar of assault say he was empowered by an environment in elite gymnastics where complaints or signs of injury could jeopardize Olympic dreams.

The president of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, resigned in March after repeatedly being urged to quit for allegedly being slow to notify authorities about sexual abuse allegations in the organization.

Nassar has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, including child pornography, and remains in jail pending trial.

A federal trial on the child pornography charges is scheduled for August, with state trials following later in the year.