PORT OF SPAIN: Jack Warner has denied reports that he has an ownership interest in the controversial Dr Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence in Trinidad writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
The $22m training centre, the only one in the Caribbean, was funded largely from development grants provided by world federation and negotiated by Warner when he was president of CONCACAF. He quit all football a year ago after being accused over bribery allegations.
Last Wednesday, at the CONCACAF annual congress in Budapest, delegates were surprised to be told that the Centre of Excellence did not belong to the confederation. It was, according to independent legal counsel John Collins, owned by two companies controlled by the Warner family.
Warner, Trinidad’s Minister of Works and occasional Acting Prime Minister, was questioned about the claim while he was distributed $220,000 in self-help housing grants to needy people in his constituency.
Warner said he did not own the Centre of Excellence. He added: “They have all the records, they can check it and see who owns it and who doesn’t own it, what they have paid and what they haven’t paid. What I do know is that I don’t own it, so what is all the fuss about?
“For over one year [FIFA president Sepp] Blatter and his minions are trying their utmost to destroy me and I would not in anyway be remotely perturbed by the foolishness taking place in FIFA.
“Blatter believes that he is a god and no one should oppose him at anytime and once you oppose him you pay the ultimate price. I will be the exception and I wish to advise him and his cohorts that in no way he can tarnish my image.”
Blatter said at a press conference on Friday that he had been surprised to learn about the ownership mystery. He said FIFA would launch legal action as soon as possible to recover both property and financial investment.
Collins had warned CONCACAF delegates that such action might be difficult because there were at least two other claimants pursing financial commitments taken out against the Centre.
Reports claim that Warner, along with former vice-president Lisle Austin, hd taken out a mortgage on the property which includes a swimming complex, a lavish garden sanctuary, a fitness centre, a 44-room hotel, an 800-capacity theatre, a banquet and reception hall, as well as several other meeting halls. The Marvin Lee Stadium is also part of the centre.
Austin, a former CONCACAF vice-president who had been involved in legal action of his own with the confederation, has denied any role in the scandal. Asked about the mortgage, he said: “I have nothing to hide and, as a trustee, all I did was sign.”
The investigative journalist Lasana Liburd, of Wired868, has claimed that local property records attribute ownership as being split between Warner and two of his companies, CCAM and Company and Renraw [‘Warner’ backwards] Investments. Warner’s wife, Maureen, is the only other director at both companies.
The land itself was purchased from businessman and [Trinidad] Guardian newspaper owner, Anthony Norman Sabga, on October 7, 1998. Sabga and a fellow director, Michael Kelvin Mansoor, reportedly “handed over their shares to Warner and Renraw Limited.”