Defiant Warner a polarizing figure in FIFA probe
Ex-official, mentioned most in indictment, is said to have diverted Haiti relief cash.
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. email@example.com 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
JACK WARNER speaks at a political rally in his native Trinidad and Tobago days after his arrest.