EL CAJON, Calif. — An El Cajon city councilman who created and runs the Miss Middle East Beauty Pageant has filed a counter-lawsuit against two pageant contestants who accused him in their own lawsuit of fraud, defamation and promising a pageant contestant a victory in exchange for sex, it was reported Monday.
The pageant participants who are suing, including 2016 pageant queen Zhala Tawfiq, filed the original lawsuit earlier this year against Bessmon “Ben” Kalasho, who was elected to the El Cajon City Council last November.
The lawsuit alleges in part that Kalasho and his wife, Jessica, defamed Tawfiq by posting doctored photos online that appeared to show the Miss Middle East winner posing naked. The photos were posted shortly after she began raising questions about the legitimacy of the pageant.
The other contestant, Paris Kargar, alleged that Kalasho insinuated she would win the pageant if she stayed the night with him in a hotel room.
“I was shocked. I said no,” Kargar told the San Diego Reader earlier this month. “He looked like he couldn’t believe I turned him down. I knew then that I wasn’t going to get a fair shot.”
Kalasho denied the allegations against him to the San Diego Reader. In his counter-suit, he said the plaintiffs provided no direct evidence that he and his wife posted the doctored nude photos of Tawfiq, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
“Perhaps, however, the individual who posted the supposed falsified nude pictures of (Tawfiq) was someone of her own culture, who took exception with her holding the Kurdish flag upside down at the pageant, which is a well-known disrespect to one’s country,” Kalasho’s counter-lawsuit said.
An attorney for the women who filed the original lawsuit criticized the 35-year-old city councilman’s counter suit, which was filed Friday in San Diego Superior Court, the Union-Tribune reported.
“The cross-complaint filed by Mr. Kalasho is completely unfounded and is a continuation of his harassment of my clients,” attorney Jimmie Parker said. “This countersuit is worthy of sanctions and we will seek them accordingly.”
On the pageant’s website, Kalasho said “the empowerment of women has been a long standing goal of mine since my early teens.”
“As a Middle Eastern, when we speak about the equal rights for women we aren’t talking about pay or benefits, no!” Kalasho said on the website. “We are so behind the rest of the world that when we talk about women’s rights we are referring to basic human rights. The freedom to wear what you want, marry who you want, vote, drive and have equal standings in court and community. It’s my life’s mission to achieve these things for Middle Eastern women, everywhere. The pageant is a vehicle for such bold and empowering steps.”
The original lawsuit also includes several other plaintiffs who accuse Kolasho of defamation, according to the Union-Tribune. San Diego attorney Lina Charry is one of the plaintiffs and claims she was targeted by Kalasho in an online poll after she prevailed against him in an unrelated lawsuit.
And 3 Brothers Taco Shop alleges it was the victim of negative social-media posts after an owner refused to let Kalasho’s campaign post an election sign inside the restaurant. Kalasho has denied those claims.