An Ottawa martial arts instructor says a false accusation of sexual assault against him nearly destroyed him. 47-year-old Ahmed Saroughi is speaking out for the first time about how the charges and the trial affected his business and his life. Saroughi was charged last year with sexually assaulting a minor, a former student volunteering at his martial arts studio.  It took months for the case to go to court and for him to finally get a chance to prove his innocence. 

For someone used to blocking punches, “Master Sam”, as he's known to his students, didn't see this one coming, splashed all over the 6:00 news. Saroughi describes what it was like hearing in the news about the charges against him.

‘I couldn't believe at all,’ he says, ‘Oh my God, this is me?  They are talking about me?’

Saroughi, the owner of the Saroughi International Taekwon-Do studio, was arrested and charged last year with sexually assaulting and exploiting a student uncer 18 years of age.  During the trial, court heard about a number of damning text messages from the girl that seemed to indicate she was after Saroughi to sign off on one thousand community hours that would help her get into university.

Throughout the trial, Saroughi maintained his innocence and earlier this year, was completely exonerated. 

But, like a bad kick to the ribs, the damage lingers.

‘It’s hard to describe,’ says Saroughi, ‘it's like your life is over. All of a sudden someone accuses you of things you haven't done and then your name everywhere.’

And with the Internet, the allegations are hard to erase.

Leo Russomanno is a criminal defence lawyer in Ottawa, ‘It's devastating, because you have the court of law and then you have the court of public opinion or the media or googles searches and when someone is charged with a serious offence,  their name is tarnished forever.’

Saroughi and his brother moved their business to a new location on Bank Street for a fresh start.  His students followed.

Angelle Bow’s daughter had taken classes for years with Saroughi, ‘There's no way anyone could convince me he'd be possible of doing something like that,’ she says.

Student Louise Ebeltoft adds, ‘It can ruin your whole career. It can ruin a club. This is his life, he's built it up.  It could happen to me right?’

Saroughi is pragmatic about it all and believes for every action, there is an equal reaction.

‘I became stronger, more compassionate to people,’ he says, as a result of the court process, ‘It made a new person of me.’

Saroughi says part of that strength comes from helping others.  He says, in light of several sexual assaults in Ottawa recently, he is opening up his martial arts studio on Bank Street every Saturday in November and in Orleans every Sunday, offering free classes to those 10 and older to teach street safety.