Maltese PM urges team not to sign footballer convicted of rape

VALLETTA (REUTERS) - Malta's prime minister urged a local soccer club on Saturday not to sign convicted British rapist Ched Evans, saying it could hurt Malta's image, and Britain's Justice Ministry said it did not usually let newly-released offenders go abroad.

British media on Friday revealed plans by Hibernians to sign Evans, a former Sheffield United and Wales striker who has been unable to secure a contract in the English league since his release from jail in October.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted that footballers were role models and that Hibernians' decision would affect Malta's image as well as that of the club. "I hope the management realise this before the final decision," he said.

Hibernians vice-president Stephen Vaughan had been quoted in British media saying Evans had been offered a deal until the end of the season.

Evans served two-and-a-half years of a five-year sentence after being found guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman in 2011.

In response to queries about Evans, Britain's Justice Ministry published a statement saying that sex offenders released early from prison must stay in contact with the authorities.

"Probation officers must give permission for sex offenders on licence to take up new jobs, and this includes ensuring they hold regular face-to-face meetings. This effectively rules out working abroad," a ministry spokesman said.

Evans was initially given permission to return to train with the English League One club Sheffield United at the request of the Professional Footballers Association.

But after protests from supporters, sponsors and patrons, including a petition with 160,000 signatures, the club retracted the offer.

Earlier on Saturday, Maltese Justice Minister Owen Bonnici argued that Evans deserved a second chance. "We should not only speak about rehabilitation of ex-prisoners, we must also practise what we preach," he tweeted.

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