Former international soccer powerbroker Jack Warner is proving that it will take more than a swirl of corruption and bribery allegations to keep him out of the political game.
Three months after being booted from the ruling government in oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago amid reports of an FBI probe and more damning corruption allegations that rocked international soccer, Warner formed an independent party and regained his parliament seat Tuesday in a landslide.
But his political comeback, while not surprising given his wealth, not only raises questions about the future of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s weakening government coalition but also underscores a potentially dangerous trend. Disillusioned voters throughout the Caribbean are increasingly willing to trade votes for the maverick regardless of reputation.
“There is a vacuum of political representation that is always going to be dangerous until we address it,” said Sunity Maharaj, a Trinidad journalist and political analyst. “Throughout the region, people have been starving for direct representation. When they can get someone, anyone — whether with unimpeachable character or of criminal character, or in between — the person’s character doesn’t matter so much to them as much as that person delivering to them.”
In Trinidad, Warner had long been the chief financier of one of the country’s top political parties, the Indian-based United National Congress. He had even served as party chairman before he was forced to give up the post, along with his parliament seat and national security minister’s job, in April. An ethics panel from the Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Football (CONCACAF) accused him and another top soccer official of fraud and embezzlement, allegations he denied.
This wasn’t his first bout with corruption allegations.
He has faced them since the 1980s, but in 2011 as vice president of FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, Warner was accused of attempting to bribe Caribbean delegates with $40,000 each to vote for FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam. He also was accused of embezzling $15 million of federation funds and misappropriating $1 million in FIFA money earmarked for a reconstruction project in Haiti. According to the soccer confederation ethics panel, Warner also failed to disclose that the $25.9 million Havelange Centre for Excellence in Port of Spain, built with soccer funds, sits on land he owns, according to the report.
Warner, 70, has denied all of the allegations, calling the CONCACAF report and its allegations “baseless and malicious.”
Voters in Chaguanas West, a fast-growing community in central Trinidad, also seemed to agree.
As the man behind the scenes in Trinidad politics, Warner has had a front-row seat as voters grew increasingly disenchanted with elected officials who seem to disappear after the victory party. Making himself the exception, he has built a reputation over the years as the “indispensable” politician with deep pockets who opened his constituency office in the wee hours of the morning and remained until the last person left.
“If any member of parliament were to forget what representation means,” Warner said Tuesday during his victory speech, “he or she would be doing so at his own peril.’’