Powerful Trinidad lawmaker at center of FIFA corruption scandal lashes out at U.S.

FIFA executive Jack Warner gestures during a news conference held shortly after his arrival at the airport in Port-of-Spain, in his native Trinidad and Tobago. Warner was one of the 14 people indicted Wednesday in the U.S. on corruption charges.
FIFA executive Jack Warner gestures during a news conference held shortly after his arrival at the airport in Port-of-Spain, in his native Trinidad and Tobago. Warner was one of the 14 people indicted Wednesday in the U.S. on corruption charges. AP

Trinidad lawmaker Jack Warner relishes a good fight — whether battling the government whose election he helped to orchestrate or FIFA, soccer’s multibillion-dollar governing body where he had been one of its most powerful officials.

But the political chameleon may now have met his match: the U.S. government. Federal prosecutors indicted him last week in a sweeping corruption case related to his time with FIFA, alleging that he built his wealth and influence off ill-gotten gains.

Less than 24 hours after bonding out of jail — he left in an ambulance — then accusing the U.S. of “a witch hunt,” Warner walked into parliament to proclaim his innocence. First, he apologized for missing Wednesday’s session.

“I was in prison, Mr. Speaker,” he said from the opposition bench, “for charges I know nothing about.”

Federal prosecutors say that could not be further from the truth. Warner, 72, has been charged with fraud, racketeering and money laundering in the United States as part of a massive Department of Justice probe into FIFA’s operations. He was arrested on a provisional warrant Wednesday and released a day later after posting $395,000 bail.

Since being released, Warner has launched an aggressive campaign to clear his name. He appeared at a political rally organized by his Independent Liberal Party wearing a green shirt and a garland of flowers around his neck.

The U.S., he said, was out for payback because it had lost out to Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.

“The country that bid for the World Cup and failed is America,” Warner said in a videotaped news conference. “They are the ones who are angry and we have seen that this has to be some kind of evidential witch hunt.

“America believes that it has some divine right to get the World Cup and they don’t believe that a country like Qatar, a small country, a Muslim country, has a right to a World Cup,” he added.

A former history teacher whose authorized biography is titled, From Zero to Hero, Warner is one of the Caribbean’s richest and most influential politicians. But that wealth and influence, according to federal prosecutors was built on illegal gains from his decades-long association and influence as a soccer power broker.

“He’s a very complex personality,” said Trinidadian journalist and political analyst Sunity Maharaj. “He’s a folk hero. He is the man people love to hate and hate to love. When he got arrested, everybody believed everything they said about the allegations. Yet, so many people are making excuses for him, like saying, ‘He didn’t rob us. He robbed other people and gave to us.’ ”

If Trinidadians thought Warner wasn’t on the up and up as he used his global football credentials to rise to success, they don’t know the half of it, according to federal prosecutors who indicted him and 13 other world soccer officials and marketing executives. They are accused of being involved in a $150 million bribery and racketeering scheme.

Warner, an Afro-Trinidadian, has long been the target of corruption speculation in Trinidad, where he has a reputation of being a lovable rogue but a hardworking politician who never forgets a face or a name. He was chairman of the Indian-based United National Congress before he left in 2011 amid a bribery for votes soccer scandal to form his own political party.

As UNC chairman, he was widely credited with the party’s 2010 return to power as part of the People’s Partnership coalition and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s ascension as Trinidad’s first female leader.

“He put all of his resources to run her campaign for leader of the party and she defeated [former prime minister and party leader] Basdeo Panday,” Maharaj said. “He was viewed throughout the campaign as the money man of the party.”

Persad-Bissessar, who once referred to Warner as her hardest working cabinet minister, her “action Jack” who often served as acting prime minister when she was out of the country, sought to distance herself from him and the scandal last week.

“I received no financing from Mr. Warner,” she told reporters. “As leader of the Partnership and leader of the UNC, I received no financing whatsoever from Mr. Warner, either prior to the internal elections in 2010 and thereafter into the general elections.”

Days before U.S. prosecutors unsealed the 47-count indictment, Warner had declared that his party would run a full slate of candidates in general elections due later this year, indicating that he could become the next prime minister if his candidates win. After his arrest, he threatened to break his silence on Persad-Bissessar, tweeting “I have decided that everything I have on Kamla I will bring out into the public.”

“Jack knows a lot of secrets,” said Maharaj, who once labeled him as a “keeper of secrets” in a column. “The question remains, ‘does he have the kind of ammunition he says he has to get even with the people who have benefited from him?’”

The U.S. indictment alleges a dozen schemes. Warner, as president of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) was at the center of many of them , according to prosecutors.

Among the many accusations, federal prosecutors say, Warner diverted media rights payments and organization funds into bank accounts that he controlled, using the money for his personal benefit. Among the purchases was a Miami condominium he bought in 2005.

The funds came from an account “held in the name of a soccer facility that was ostensibly affiliated with CONCACAF,” prosecutors said.

He also used intermediaries, including his sons. Prosecutors say a family member once flew to Paris to pick up a briefcase with “bundles of U.S. currency in $10,000 stacks” from an official of the bid committee for the 2010 World Cup that was held in South Africa. The unidentified family member then flew back to Trinidad and handed the cash to Warner.

Among the most damning allegations — and the one that may have created the path to Warner’s eventual 2011 downfall — was the selling of his secret ballot and that of other soccer executive committee members to South Africa for $10 million to host the World Cup.

Warner was supposed to share $1 million of the payout with Chuck Blazer, the general secretary of CONCACAF and identified by federal prosecutors as co-conspirator #1. Blazer only received $750,000. A central figure in the scandal, Blazer pleaded guilty in 2013 to conspiracy to commit racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering, income tax evasion and failure to report foreign bank accounts.

He also cooperated with investigators, secretly recording executives talking about bribery.

It was Blazer who would inform FIFA about Warner’s $40,000 brown envelope “gifts” at Trinidad’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. The May 2011 scheme involved bribing Caribbean delegates to vote as a bloc for 2011 FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar. Then president of the Asian Football Confederation, bin Hammam, identified as co-conspirator #7 in the indictment, was running against incumbent Sepp Blatter.

When Warner learned that Blazer had been alerted to the scheme, prosecutors said he became angry, stating, “There are some people here who think they are more pious than thou. If you’re pious, open a church, friends. Our business is our business.”

After FIFA opened an ethics investigation into Warner’s cash “gifts,” he resigned as FIFA vice president and head of CONCACAF.

The scheme would later be highlighted in a 2013 CONCACAF ethics panel report, accusing Warner of fraud and embezzlement. For example, Warner 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 denied the allegations, calling them “baseless and malicious.”

After the report went public, Warner was forced to resign as chairman of the UNC and as national security minister, one of the most powerful posts in the Persad-Bissessar government. He was also forced to give up his parliament seat, which he regained three months later after forming his own party and winning a special election.

“The reason why he could have run against the government party and beat the government party in their base is because he looked after everybody in that constituency,” Maharaj said. “He would foot the bills. He’s a man everybody goes to so it’s very hard for people to get past their personal relationship with him.”

Maharaj says what’s happening with Warner is tragic, and wonders if he will be able to beat the allegations. Among those who have cooperated with authorities against him are his two sons, Daryll and Daryan, who secretly pleaded guilty in 2013 to wire fraud and other related charges.

“Say what you want, he always had the money to buy his way out of a problem,” Maharaj said. “But some of his options may now be limited because of his two sons. The speculation here in Trinidad is that he may have to choose between himself and his sons.”


Federal prosecutors say soccer officials and marketing and TV executives were involved in 12 schemes. Here is a synopsis according to the Associated Press.

SCHEME A — 1993, 1995 AND 1997 COPA AMERICAS

Traffic Brazil purchased rights for the three tournaments in a deal worth $6.6 million. Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, then president of the South American governing body CONMEBOL and later a FIFA executive committee member, refused to sign the contract until he received a dollar payment in six figures. In 1993 and 1995, Leoz demanded additional payments starting in 1993 or 1995 for future Copa America tournaments, and payments increased over time to seven figures. In 2007, the year Venezuela hosted the tournament, the country's soccer federation president, Rafael Esquivel, demanded and received $1 million and $700,000 payments from Traffic.


Traffic Sports USA caused hundreds of thousands in payments to be made to Jack Warner, then president of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), and co-conspirator No. 1, whose description matches that of then-CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer.


Starting around the early 2000s, Leoz asked for payments from a sports marketing company and for diversion of payments slated to go to CONMEBOL in exchange for support of that company in a marketing deal. Leoz asked in February and May 2006 for more than $2 million owed to CONMEBOL by an affiliate of that company to be sent to Leoz's accounts in Paraguay and Switzerland. Leoz asked for additional payments around 2008.


Jose Maria Marin, then president of Brazilian soccer's governing body, requested bribe payments in 2012 as part of Traffic Brazil and an unidentified sports marketing company's contract for the Copa do Brazil for 2013-22. The bribe payments, which totaled 2 million reals (approximately $986,000), were split among Marin and two unidentified people.


The Confederacao Brasileira de Desportos, the governing body of Brazilian soccer, announced a 10-year sponsorship and endorsement agreement with Nike in 1996 that made the company the exclusive jersey and equipment supplier to the federation, including the national team. Nike's deal called for it to pay the CBF $160 million, of which the CBF gave a percentage to Traffic Brazil. Nike then agreed to pay a Traffic affiliate with a Swiss bank account an additional $40 million.

SCHEME F — 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cup QUALIFIERS IN THE CARIBBREAN

Warner was also president of the Caribbean Football Union and a special adviser to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation. Traffic USA bought rights to Caribbean home World Cup qualifiers from CFU, then bought the rights to Trinidad's home qualifiers, which it already owned, from the TTFA. Traffic USA then diverted payments to a Warner-controlled account. In one of the examples, for 2006 World Cup qualifiers, Traffic USA paid the CFU $900,000, then agreed to pay the TTFA $800,000 for rights it already owned and wired the money to an account in Trinidad and Tobago that Warner controlled. For the 2010 World Cup, Traffic USA paid the CFU $2.2 million, then paid Warner-controlled accounts $800,000 for the same rights.


In the early 2000s, Warner directed co-conspirator No. 14, identified as a member of his family, to pick up a briefcase with "bundles of U.S. currency in $10,000 stacks in a hotel room" from co-conspirator No. 15, identified as a high-ranking South African bid committee official. Before the vote for 2010 host, Warner traveled to Morocco and was offered a $1 million payment by a representative of its bid committee in exchange for his vote. Before the vote, co-conspirator No. 1 (who appears to be Blazer) understood a proposed $10 million payment was to be made to the CFU for the votes of himself, Warner and co-conspirator No. 17. South Africa was voted the 2010 host in May 2004. In January and March of 2008, $10 million in payments were made from a FIFA account in Switzerland to a Bank of America account in New York for credit to an account in the names of CFU and CONCACAF and controlled by Warner at Republic Bank in Trinidad and Tobago. In the following three years, Warner made three payments to co-conspirator No. 1 totaling $750,000.


Eduardo Li, then president of Costa Rican soccer's governing body, in 2009 asked for a six-figure bribe from Traffic USA as part of an agreement for rights for Costa Rica's home qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup, a deal worth $2.55 million to $3 million, depending on the team's success. The request was made to co-conspirator No. 4, whose description matches that of Enrique Sanz, who was a Traffic USA vice president before becoming CONCACAF general secretary in July 2012. Julio Rocha, then president of Nicaraguan soccer's governing body and later a FIFA development officer, around 2011 also asked for a six-figure bribe from Traffic USA as part of an agreement for rights for Nicaragua's home qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup, a deal worth $1,138,000 to $1,288,000, depending on the team's success. During the time co-conspirator No. 4 negotiated on behalf of Traffic USA, bribes were paid to at least two other Central American soccer federation presidents.


At a meeting in Trinidad and Tobago in May 2011 arranged by Warner, CFU staff gave officials envelopes each containing $40,000 and told them the money came from co-conspirator No. 7, whose description matches that of Mohamed bin Hammam at Qatar, then president of the Asian Football Confederation. At the time, bin Hammam was running for FIFA president in opposition to Sepp Blatter, who has served as president since 1998. After the payments became public and Warner resigned his soccer positions, on July 14, 2011 co-conspirator No. 7 caused $1,211,980 to be wired from an account he controlled in Qatar to a Citibank account for credit to Warner's account at Intercommercial Bank in Trinidad and Tobago.


Costas Takkas, an associate of Cayman Islands soccer federation president Jeffrey Webb, solicited a $3 million bribe from Traffic USA as part of a $23 million CFU deal for rights to Caribbean qualifiers for 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Webb had been elected CONCACAF president in May 2012. Co-conspirator No. 4 (who appears to be Sanz) participated in negotiations, and payments were made through entities controlled by Takkas. Some of the payments were transferred to United Community Bank in Blairsville, Georgia, in the account of a contractor who was building a swimming pool at Webb's residence in Loganville, Georgia.


Co-conspirator No. 4 (who appears to be Sanz) negotiated a $15.5 million deal on behalf of CONCACAF with Traffic USA in November 2012 for rights to the 2013 Gold Cup and 2013-14 and 2014-15 Champions Leagues. Co-conspirator No. 4 solicited a $1.1 million bribe that was agreed to by Aaron Davidson, an executive of Traffic Sports USA, and co-conspirator No. 2, the founder of Brazil-based Traffic Group. CONCACAF and Traffic USA agreed on Nov. 15, 2013, to a $60 million deal for the 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2021 Gold Cups, and six seasons of Champions Leagues through 2021-22. The parties agreed to a $2 million bribe for Webb.


Prosecutors said CONMEBOL reached an agreement in 2013 with a new company, Datisa, on a $240 million contract for rights to the Copa America in 2015, 2019 and 2023, and the following year to a $112.5 million deal for the 2016 Copa America Centenario in the U.S. As part of the deals, prosecutors said Datisa agreed to pay $110 million in bribes to South American soccer officials.

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