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Sordid affair

jackwarnersaywhatThat the mighty Austin “Jack” Warner has fallen is a good thing.

That he was allowed to thrive for so long and to accumulate massive wealth by dubious means, is a major blot not only on Trinidad and Tobago, but is an eternal regional stain.

The Warner saga is not a new development. There has been a cloud of graft hanging over his head for decades.

Top Scottish investigative journalist Andrew Jennings has pursued Warner, among other leading FIFA officials, with relentless vigour for years and exposed much of the former CONCACAF president’s shenanigans in the BBC Panorama broadcast FIFA’s Dirty Secrets in 2010.

But rather than address the allegations frontally, others in Caribbean football officialdom remained silent. Some even publicly supported Warner and drew the wagons around him. And in a region where accountability can often mean little, Warner existed as a government minister, ironically, with the portfolio of National Security.

The allegations and subsequent evidence produced against Warner are astounding. Some of it could be used as the script or inspiration for a fourth installment of the Oscar-winning movie The Godfather.

The catering contract for the five stadia used during the 2001 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in the twin-island republic went to his son, Daryan. Another son, Daryll, got a $1.9 million contract for the installation of video screens in hotel lobbies.

Through a family company called Simpaul, Warner is documented to have made a financial bundle selling 2002 FIFA World Cup tickets while being the president of CONCACAF.

FIFA’s ethics committee red-flagged Warner and accused him of abusing his position to obtain personal benefits and failing to declare his business interests. He agreed to sever all family links with Simpaul but his son Daryan remained the company’s director throughout World Cup.

In a report submitted to FIFA in March 2006, Ernst and Young estimated that Warner’s family had made a profit of at least $1 million from reselling 2006 World Cup tickets which Warner had directly ordered or sold on behalf of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association.

Following a football visit to Scotland by the Trinidad team in 2004, Scottish Football Association president John McBeth said Warner had asked that monies owed to the Trinidad football federation be paid to his personal bank account.

On May 10, 2011, former chairman of the Football Association, Lord Triesman, accused Warner of asking for compensation in return for votes for England’s 2018 World Cup bid.

In May 2011 Warner requested $1.6 million from the English FA under the guise of seeking to purchase Haiti’s World Cup television rights as a humanitarian gesture. Once again he asked that the money be sent to his personal account. FIFA later denied that Haiti had ever been granted television rights for the competition.

But perhaps Warner’s biggest coup was to have concealed that he owned the land on which CONCACAF’s $25 million Joao Havalange Centre of Excellence was built in Trinidad. This basically made him the owner of the entire FIFA-funded property.

Last week a CONCACAF Integrity Committee, headed by former Chief Justice of Barbados, Sir David Simmons, issued a report accusing Warner of “massive fraud”. It was the culmination of an investigation that involved the collection of documents and a series of interviews.

In the midst of corruption and bribery charges, Warner had resigned as CONCACAF president in 2011 negating any subsequent charges. Over the past two days he has resigned as Minister of National Security and as chairman of the United National Congress.

But where was the Trinidad and Tobago government in the midst of this atrocious affair? Where were the voices of individual presidents of member Caribbean football associations as the putrid smell of corruption filtered through CONCACAF?

But it could get worse for Warner and the region’s reputation.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched a criminal investigation into corruption in FIFA that already has targeted Daryan Warner, resident in the United States, and who is reportedly cooperating with authorities in an effort to save his skin.

The Internal Revenue Service has also taken an interest in the investigation, looking specifically at violations of US tax laws and of US anti-fraud statutes, inclusive of those prohibiting wire and mail fraud.

Only time will tell how this sordid saga finally ends. But there are some silent regional actors, other than the main protagonist, who should hold their heads down in shame.

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