** Each succeeding day in Trinidad & Tobago brings yet another call for Jack Warner to step aside as National Security Minister until issues swirling around his family and their financial connections are resolved writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar retired to bed on Friday, reporting flu symptoms, and was unable to chair a Cabinet meeting.
MPs from the governing People’s Partnership coalition were ordered not to make any comment about the Warner affair.
Such silencing did not apply to opposition MPs, other community leaders and the media.
How long Warner can hold out before Persad-Bissessar decides his presence in the Cabinet is a distraction the governance of the nation cannot afford is open to question.
She has been solidly loyal to Warner over the past two years since he walked away from football after being accused over the scandal which led to a life ban for Qatar’s Mohamed Bin Hammam.
Warner, always a controversial figure within football in his roles as a vice-president of world authority FIFA and boss of regional confederation CONCACAF, had organised a conference of members of the Caribbean Football Union (over which he also presided) to hear Bin Hammam explain why he wished to oust Sepp Blatter as president of FIFA.
The offering to delegates of envelopes containing $40,000 in cash prompted a whistleblowing exercise by CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer which led to Warner quitting football, Bin Hammam being suspended by FIFA and CFU members being banned and/or fined for ethics code breaches.
Also sparked was a renewed interest in CONCACAF – its officers and its finances – from the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Services; ‘renewed’ because the FBI is believed to have been holding a largely benign watching brief for a decade.
In the autumn of 2010 CONCACAF launched an initial inquiry into the almost unfathomable complications of Warner’s financial relationships with CONCACAF, with the CFU, with the Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation, with Blazer and over the ownership of the Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence in Port of Spain as well as the long-running breach of faith with the TTFF’s World Cup players from 2006.
Delegates to CONCACAF’s congress in Budapest last May professed themselves scandalised by revelations over the muddled ownership of the Havelange Centre and over multi-million commissions from CONCACAF contracts awarded to Blazer (also a FIFA exco member).
This was disingenuous: many of the ‘scandalised’ delegates had been those who accepted Bin Hammam’s cash-stuffed envelopes.
New CONCACAF president Jeff Webb from the Cayman Islands, once considered an ally of Warner, ordered a forensic inquiry into CONCACAF finances which should be delivered to the confederation’s congress in late April.
In the meantime, early in March the Trinidad Guardian reported that “the son of a government Minister” was under house arrest in Miami, “assisting the FBI” into inquiries into money-laundering and other financial allegations.
Back in Trinidad, Opposition leaders demanded that the Minister concerned identified himself to remove the shadow of suspicion hanging over the rest of the Cabinet.
No-one spoke up.
The FBI, formally, refused to release any information. Then it emerged that both of Jack Warner’s sons, Daryan and Darryl, were living in an upmarket penthouse in Miami. Days later Reuters reported that Daryan was the “son” assisting the FBI.
Reuters also reported that the FBI squad investigating Warner was a section which specialised in “Eurasian organised crime.”
More calls for Warner’s removal from office came now from former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, Social Justice Movement leaders David Abdulah and ex-Congress of the People vice-chairman Vernon de Lima.
Persad-Bissessar, under pressure, issued a statement insisting: “I will not rely on published reports in the media, but will again seek to get official corroboration of the information now in the public domain before making any determination or pronouncement.”
Warner said he had: “No reaction … none whatsoever,” to the Reuters report. He told local journalists: “You all write, I will read.”
On Friday a leader in the Trinidad Express stated that the Warner issue was “further besmirching the good name of Trinidad & Tobago.”
It added: “The Prime Minister has to finally do the right and proper thing: bite the bullet and tell Mr Warner to step down while the FBI, and who knows what other agency, carries out its investigations.
“We cannot continue to operate as if in a vacuum while all around us federal investigators pry into the affairs of a Government minister who has become a liability rather than an asset.”
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