After the deadly attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on January 21, some Afghans claimed that the city’s Chief of Police didn’t do enough to thwart it. People began to circulate photos that supposedly showed him in bed with a younger woman, claiming that he was thus occupied while the attack was taking place. But there is a problem with these claims: it turns out these photos have been circulating online for a long time and have already been used to try to discredit at least three different Indian ministers.
The photos meant to incriminate Kabul’s chief of police show a man in his fifties in bed with a half-naked, much younger woman. All but one of the seven photos seem to be selfies. The man and woman aren’t always wearing the same clothes so it is likely that the photos were taken at different times.
Photos that keep resurfacing
A simple internet search reveals that this is far from the first time that these same photos have been used to discredit an official. The France 24 Observers team uncovered three other occasions when these photos were used as “proof” of an apparent sexual scandal involving an official. All of them took place in India.
When our team did a reverse image search on these photos, we discovered that they had been published on several Indian porn sites.
However, it appears very few Indian media websites have bothered to run this simple search. Since September 2016, these photos have been shared by multiple media sources as well as by tens of thousands of social media users who claim that the man in the pictures is some politician or another.
On September 10, 2016, these photos were posted on Indian social media and shared by several local news outlets under the heading, “text message scandal of the AAP minister of transportation.” The AAP is the centre-left party that governs the state of Delhi. In 2016, there were two different local ministers of transportation from the AAP in this region, Gopal Rai and Kailash Gahlot. Neither of them look anything like the man in the photos.
The picture on the left shows Gopal Rai, while the one on the right shows Kailash Gahlot. People tried to use the same erotic photos to discredit both of these men… even though neither of them actually looks like the man in the pictures.
At around the same time, Sandeep Kumar, who served as the minister of for women and child welfare in the Delhi government, was embroiled in a scandal involving a sex tape. But Kumar, who was about 30 at the time, doesn’t look anything like the man in the pictures either.
Two months later, these photos started circulating again on Indian social media. This time, however, they were shared by Tamil-speaking users, who claimed that the photos featured an entirely different local transportation minister – this one from Karnataka state in the southwest of the country. Just one posting of these photos was shared 321,000 times.
Yet, once again, the minister in question, Ramalinga Reddy (seen in the photo below) bears no resemblance to the man in the photo.
And that’s not the end of it. In December 2017, these same photos were published by Indian media outlets who claimed that they featured a "member of the BJP", India's ruling party. While these articles do not give a name, they allege that the man is a candidate for the municipal council in Jalasar, a small town located 200 kilometres to the south of Delhi. According to these media outlets, the photos were shared by the man’s enemies within his own party.
The Afghan police officer who actually resembles the man in the photos
The latest person to be associated with these photos is Kabul’s Chief of Police, Hasan Shah Forough. This time, however, the situation is a little trickier since there actually is a resemblance with the man in the photos.
This is what Hasan Shah Forough looks like:
It’s pretty striking, right? There are indeed real similarities between the man in the photo and Kabul’s Chief of Police, which seemed to lend plausibility to the claims by Afghan social media users that Forough had been in bed with this woman instead of dealing with the situation at the Intercontinental Hotel.
However, if you study the two men closely, there are cracks in the narrative. The man in the photo has a mole on his right cheek, while Forough does not. Secondly, the man in the photos seems to be wearing a wig, while the policeman's hair looks real.
But here’s the real issue with the social media claims: these photos are almost two years old and, therefore, cannot possibly show what the chief of police was up to while the Intercontinental Hotel was being attacked.
So, who is this mystery couple?
One of the first times that this photo was posted online was in August 2016, on an Indian porn forum. There are about 50 other photos of the couple, most of them of a sexual nature. But our team had no way of establishing their real identity and, thus, it remains unclear if they are professional actors or a real couple.
However, one thing is certain: these photos don’t show Kabul’s chief of police!