De­fi­ant Warner a po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure in FIFA probe

Ex-of­fi­cial, men­tioned most in in­dict­ment, is said to have di­verted Haiti re­lief cash.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Nathan Fenno

In a low, even voice, Jack Warner spoke of treach­ery and se­crets.

The cen­tral fig­ure in the cor­rup­tion scan­dal sweep­ing through in­ter­na­tional soc­cer re­clined in a chair and com­pared him­self to an iso­lated sol­dier. Warner ex­pressed fear for his life. He quoted Mo­han­das Gandhi. He ac­cused soc­cer’s world­wide gov­ern­ing body, FIFA, of med­dling in Trinidad and Tobago’s 2010 elec­tion. He asked for prayer.

Honks and muf­fled con­ver­sa­tion from out­side could be heard in the nearly eight­minute video recorded last week and broad­cast on tele­vi­sion in Trinidad and Tobago as a paid po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tise­ment. The me­an­der­ing, de­fi­ant mono­logue even had a ti­tle: “Jack Warner: The Gloves Are Off.”

“Not even death will stop the avalanche that is com­ing,” said Warner, deep fur­rows creas­ing his brow. “The die is cast. There can be no turn­ing back. Let the chips fall where they fall.”

So far, the for­mer FIFA vice pres­i­dent who lost that job four years ago in a bribery scan­dal is the one caught in the avalanche.

The lat­est devel­op­ment, re­ported by the BBC, con­cerns the dis­ap­pear­ance of $750,000 that FIFA and the Korean Foot­ball Assn. in­tended to help re­lief ef­forts af­ter Haiti’s 2010 earth­quake. The money in­stead went into some of the 75 bank ac­counts con­trolled by Warner, the net­work said.

That fol­lows last month’s al­le­ga­tions of en­velopes stuffed with $40,000 in cash and a $10-mil­lion bribe to help steer the 2010 World Cup to South Africa.

Warner, a charis­matic, po­lar­iz­ing mem­ber of Trinidad and Tobago’s House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives who founded his own po­lit­i­cal party, faces charges that in­clude money laun­der­ing and rack­e­teer­ing con­spir­acy. Thir­teen other high-rank­ing for­mer and cur­rent FIFA of­fi­cials and busi­ness­men also were in­dicted on var­i­ous charges.

The 161-page in­dict­ment in U.S. Dis­trict Court in Brook­lyn men­tions Warner’s name 105 times, more

than any other de­fen­dant. The num­ber of ref­er­ences hint at the im­mense breadth of cor­rup­tion U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment pros­e­cu­tors at­tribute to him dur­ing his nearly three-decade ten­ure as a mem­ber of FIFA’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

“He’s an anom­aly in the sense that he’s so brazen about his be­hav­ior and doesn’t seem to think his ac­tions are in any way un­to­ward,” said Gareth Sweeney, edi­tor of Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional’s Cor­rup­tion in Sport Ini­tia­tive. “Oth­ers in­dicted have been much more un­der the radar in their ac­tiv­i­ties, as one would nor­mally be when en­gag­ing in rack­e­teer­ing and money laun­der­ing.”

Warner’s sons, Daryan and Daryll, have been en­snared in the scan­dal too. Their guilty pleas in 2013 to charges that in­cluded wire fraud con­spir­acy were re­cently un­sealed. The broth­ers are re­ported to be co­op­er­at­ing with au­thor­i­ties.

But their 72-year-old fa­ther is un­bowed.

Warner spent a night in jail last month in Trinidad and Tobago’s cap­i­tal, Port of Spain, fol­low­ing his ar­rest in the case. He left in an am­bu­lance, claim­ing ex­haus­tion. Dozens of sup­port­ers wear­ing green — the color of Warner’s In­de­pen­dent Lib­eral Party es­tab­lished in 2013 — cel­e­brated his re­lease around the jail’s gate.

Warner seem­ingly re­cov­ered in a mat­ter of hours and danced and clapped at a po­lit­i­cal rally in a scene cap­tured on video. In a green polo shirt and base­ball cap, he acted like a vic­to­ri­ous politi­cian, not some­one on Interpol’s most wanted list.

In an­other video, Warner bran­dished a print­out from the Onion, a satir­i­cal web­site, in his de­fense. The story joked FIFA had “fran­ti­cally” awarded the World Cup to the U.S. in the wake of the bribery scan­dal. Warner’s blun­der quickly went vi­ral.

“If FIFA is so bad, why is it USA wants to keep the FIFA World Cup?” Warner asked.

Last week, Warner lec­tured the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives about the re­spon­si­bil­ity of high of­fice and the need for proper ac­count­ing. Warner, who served as the coun­try’s min­is­ter of Na­tional Se­cu­rity un­til 2013, acted as if noth­ing were amiss.

Prime Min­is­ter Kamla Per­sad-Bisses­sar read the charges against Warner into the record, pleaded with him not to sully the coun­try’s name and walked out in protest.

“I will have the last laugh, lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally,” Warner said.

Roodal Mooni­lal, min­is­ter of Hous­ing and Ur­ban Devel­op­ment, ad­dressed the body af­ter Warner.

“They should amend the Ox­ford, the Concise and the Web­ster dic­tio­nary — he is the def­i­ni­tion of shame­less­ness,” Mooni­lal said.

The in­dict­ment makes a sim­i­lar claim.

U.S. pros­e­cu­tors al­leged, for ex­am­ple, that Warner co­or­di­nated a brazen at­tempt in 2011 to bribe Caribbean Foot­ball Union of­fi­cials to vote for Qatar’s Mo­hamed Bin Ham­mam in his un­suc­cess­ful bid for FIFA pres­i­dent. Us­ing an Amer­ica On­line email ac­count, Warner ar­ranged for the of­fi­cials to meet at Port of Spain’s Hy­att Re­gency with ex­pan­sive views of the Gulf of Paria.

Af­ter Bin Ham­mam asked for the Caribbean of­fi­cials’ sup­port, Warner told them to col­lect a gift that af­ter­noon in a ho­tel con­fer­ence room. The of­fi­cials, who en­tered one at a time, were handed en­velopes stuffed with $40,000. But word of the “gifts” quickly trav­eled be­yond the ho­tel con­fer­ence room and in­fin­ity pool. Warner wasn’t happy.

“There are some peo­ple who think they are more pi­ous than thou,” he told the group the fol­low­ing day. “If you’re pi­ous, open a church, friends. Our busi­ness is our busi­ness.”

That busi­ness, if you be­lieve the in­dict­ment, filled Warner’s bank ac­counts with tens of mil­lions of dol­lars. The pages are re­plete with de­tails: ac­cu­sa­tions Warner funded the pur­chase of a Miami con­do­minium with money al­lo­cated for a CON­CA­CAF fa­cil­ity and di­verted funds from that or­ga­ni­za­tion, along with FIFA and the Caribbean Foot­ball Union, into per­sonal ac­counts.

Much of the money re­volved around South Africa’s ef­forts to host the World Cup in 2006 and 2010. In the early 2000s, an un­named cocon­spir­a­tor f lew to Paris at Warner’s di­rec­tion. In a ho­tel room, a se­nior of­fi­cial with South Africa’s bid com­mit­tee handed over a brief­case stuffed with cash in $10,000 bun­dles. Hours later, the courier re­turned to Trinidad and Tobago and al­legedly gave the brief­case to Warner.

“The per­sis­tence and scale of the al­leged cor­rup­tion is stag­ger­ing,” said Roger Pielke Jr., a Uni­ver­sity of Colorado pro­fes­sor and po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist who tracks FIFA. “Th­ese episodes are in­deed deeply part of FIFA’s cul­ture.”

The in­dict­ment said Warner agreed to a $10-mil­lion pay­ment from South Africa’s gov­ern­ment in ex- change for vot­ing, along with two un­named co-con­spir­a­tors, for the coun­try to host the 2010 World Cup. The bi­o­graph­i­cal de­tails of one of the co-con­spir­a­tors match those of Chuck Blazer, the for­mer FIFA ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber who ad­mit­ted in his 2013 guilty plea in the cor­rup­tion case to agree­ing to ac­cept a bribe for the 2010 World Cup.

In a writ­ten state­ment is­sued soon af­ter the charges be­came public, Warner blamed the imbroglio on “large world pow­ers” and pro­claimed his in­no­cence.

“I have fought fear­lessly against all forms of injustice and cor­rup­tion,” he wrote.

That is in keep­ing with his habit of blam­ing scan­dals that have dogged his ca­reer — and forced his res­ig­na­tion as a FIFA vice pres­i­dent and CON­CA­CAF pres­i­dent in 2011 — on con­spir­a­cies or po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated at­tacks.

“He has for many years ... thought him­self into a state of in­vul­ner­a­bil­ity,” An­drew Jen­nings, a Bri­tish jour­nal­ist who spent years in­ves­ti­gat­ing FIFA and Warner, wrote in an email. “He be­lieved him­self un­touch­able.”

Among the prior prob­lems are claims Warner prof­ited from the il­licit sale of tick­ets to the 2006 World Cup. When Jen­nings con­fronted Warner about the mat­ter in 2006 for the BBC, the then-FIFA of­fi­cial wasn’t pleased.

“How much profit do you ex­pect to make in trad­ing World Cup tick­ets this year?” Jen­nings asked, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of the ex­change.

Warner re­sponded with a pro­fan­ity.

Th­ese days, he is free on $395,000 bail pending ex­tra­di­tion to the U.S. His muck­rak­ing weekly tabloid, Sun­shine, ded­i­cated to “rais­ing the bar and re­turn­ing cred­i­bil­ity once again to the print me­dia,” rails against the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of FIFA. One story claimed the probe was a “des­per­ate” plot by West­ern coun­tries to grab up­com­ing World Cups from Rus­sia and Qatar. A col­umn praised Warner as a “lat­terday Robin Hood.”

“Far too of­ten, I have put the coun­try be­fore my fam­ily and my­self,” he said in the eight-minute video.

Warner added: “I have never viewed my­self as any­thing other than a proud pa­triot. ... I have suf­fered in­dig­nity and ridicule and kept my mouth shut.”

And he keeps talk­ing. nathan.fenno@la­ Twit­ter: @nathanfenno

Warner is ‘an anom­aly in the sense that he’s so brazen about his be­hav­ior and doesn’t seem to think his ac­tions are in any way un­to­ward.’ — Gareth Sweeney, edi­tor of Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional’s Cor­rup­tion in Sport Ini­tia­tive

An­thony Har­ris

JACK WARNER speaks at a po­lit­i­cal rally in his na­tive Trinidad and Tobago days af­ter his ar­rest.

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