KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING: Just as with FIFA in 2011, so Austin ‘Jack’ Warner has again refused to face questions over his financial affairs and walked away from his government role in Trinidad and Tobago.
Warner, a former FIFA vice president, has offered his resignation as National Security Minister to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar following fraud allegations itemised in a damning report to the Central and North American football confederation CONCACAF.
Warner had been due to face a parliamentary motion of no confidence on Friday which threatened the continuance of the government since the Congress of the People, a partner in the coalition, had already demanded his departure.
Persad-Bissessar was reported overnight from Port of Spain to have accepted the resignation (“in the interests of the party”) and appointed Emannuel George, frmer Works and Infrastructure Minister, in Warner’s place.
Warner has been under increasing pressure ever since it emerged that one of his sons, Daryan, is in the United States ‘assisting’ the Federal Bureau of Investigations in inquiries into money-laundering and other issues.
Warner, for years both the most powerful man in the region’s football and the subject of greatest controversy, walked away from all football in the summer of 2011 rather than face a FIFA ethics commission over bribery allegations arising out of events during the world football authority’s presidential elections.
Warner has been compared with Ricardo Teixeira, the Brazilian football supremo who – similarly – ran away to Miami to escape a flood tide of business scandals, including the fallout from the ISL affair.
Yet, if true, all the allegations recently made against Warner would paint the profiteering of various senior sports officials off the back of ISL appear as small change.
Warner wielded enormous power and patronage in the regional and world game after evolving from history teacher into millionaire business and government minister via football leadership roles in Trinidad (TTFF), the Caribbean (CFU) and central and North America (CONCACAF).
He quit the game in the summer of 2011 after being accused in connection with bribery allegations surrounding Bin Hammam’s bid to oust Sepp Blatter as president of FIFA.
Warner was caught out by the whistleblowing of his long-time CONCACAF ally Chuck Blazer. Later Blazer, a member himself of the FIFA executive committee and general secretary of CONCACAF, became the focus of concern over his financial relationship with both the organisation and with Warner.
Warner, on his way out of football, threatened one day to bring down the house of FIFA (and Blatter) with “a football tsunami.”
Lately, however, it has been Warner in the eye of the storm after steadily increasing pressure topped off by allegations about his financial affairs in the Trinidad media and then last week’s revelations to CONCACAF Congress in Panama City.
The final nail in Warner’s political coffin was the report into the Warner era commissioned by CONCACAF president Jeff Webb from David Simmons, the body’s integrity judge and a former chief justice of Barbados and, to examine the accounts.
His report accused Warner and Blazer as having been “fraudulent in their management” of the confederation’s affairs.
Both men have always denied any wrongdoing.
Simmons not only examined the books and accounts and other documents but undertook interviews with 38 associates.
‘Sad and sorry tale’
He told CONCACAF congress: “I have recounted a sad and sorry tale in the life of CONCACAF, a tale of abuse of position and power, by persons who assisted in bringing the organisation to profitability but who enriched themselves at the expense of their very own organisations.”
Simmons reported that, to the best of his knowledge, Warner had never divulged the fact that a $25.9m Centre of Excellence had been built on land owned by his companies.
CONCACAF members had thought the Centre was owned by the authority. In fact it was not even though it had been built largely with monies from CONCACAF and from FIFA.
Warner had allowed Blazer to work without a contract from July 18, 1998 and his compensation was discussed only three times in CONCACAF forums during 21 years.
The report also found “no business reason” for the renting of apartments used by Blazer in Manhattan. Last year it emerged, for the first time, that CONCACAF had not filed income tax returns to the United States authorities.
Concluding his report, Simmons said the auditors used by CONCACAF during the Warner era, Trinidad-based Kenny Rampersad and Company, were not independent and cited documented proof that Warner and Blazer were clients of the firm.
The Simmons report has been submitted to FIFA’s ethics committee for consideration of further action. The world federation will not be only interested party.
Since at least mid-2011, the FBI has been examining more than $500,000 in payments made by the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) over the past 20 years to an offshore company headed by Blazer. That was a period during which Warner was also head of the CFU, a position he held from the early 1980s until 2011.
The Internal Revenue Service reportedly has joined in the investigation, which is looking into potential violations of US tax laws and anti-fraud statutes, including laws prohibiting wire fraud and mail fraud.
# # # #