FIFA executive allegedly stole Australian cash, quits

New report accuses former CONCACAF executives Jack Warner (middle) and Chuck Blazer (right) of enriching themselves with the confederation's money. Photo: CONCACAF congress 2011 in Miami (c) Jens Weinreich 

New report accuses former CONCACAF executives Jack Warner (middle) and Chuck Blazer (right) of enriching themselves with the confederation’s money. Photo: CONCACAF congress 2011 in Miami (c) Jens Weinreich

(22 April 2013) – A REPORT released during the CONCACAF congress in Panama on April 19 outlines harsh allegations of fund embezzlement committed by then FIFA vice-president Jack Warner of Trinidad and former CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer of the USA. Both men had functioned without a written contract from 1998 until their respective departures, and the American Blazer allegedly received 15 million dollars in commissions for his services during that time frame. 

The damning report examines the financial management of CONCACAF, the sport governing body (except for professional leagues) of which the USA and Canada are members. It is the acronym for Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, the regional arm of FIFA, which operates as an international sports cartel with the participation of the giant sports monopolies such as adidas of Germany and finance capital such as VISA of the USA.

The report was compiled by David Simmons, head of CONCACAF’s Integrity Committee and a former chief justice of Barbados, a forensic auditor and a US federal court judge. According to news agencies, the report prompted fury among delegates, with one describing Warner, Minister of National Security in the Trinidad and Tobago government, and Blazer as “white collar thieves.”

Trinidad Jack

Austin “Jack” Warner is a Trinidad and Tobago politician, businessman, and former football executive. Seen as one of the more powerful men in world football, he had been on the FIFA Executive Committee since 1983, holding the offices of Vice president of FIFA and President of CONCACAF since 1990. He was re-elected for a new term in the spring of 2011. On 24 May 2011 FIFA’s ethics committee began official proceedings against Warner concerning at least three separate corruption and bribery charges. until his suspension from all involvement in soccer on May 29, 2011 and eventual resignation later in the year. He was also the former Minister of National Security of Trinidad and Tobago and an elected member of that country’s parliament. A former school teacher (history), he is the owner of Joe Public F.C., a professional football club based in Tunapuna, Trinidad and Tobago.[3]

During his tenure, Warner was implicated in numerous corruption allegations some of which date back to the 1980s.[5] In 2011 Warner was accused of paying bribes and soliciting bribes from English World Cup bid officials.

He has been accused of withholding salaries from 13 members of the Soca Warriors, the national team of Trinidad & Tobago, who campaigned so well at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. It turned out that every time they touched the ball they were making money for Warner. When the players justly complained, they were blacklisted. The players claimed that over US$15.6 million in taxpayers’ money was missing and repeated a call for government intervention. Nevertheless Warner was advanced in the island government.

On 29 May 2011 Warner and Mohammed bin Hammam were provisionally suspended by FIFA’s Ethics Committee from all involvement in soccer, pending the outcome of the investigation of corruption allegations against them.[7]

On 20 June 2011, FIFA announced Warner’s resignation from all his positions in international football.[8] Using the fact that Warner was no longer part of FIFA, they ended the investigation into any and all ethics violations, saying “As a consequence of Mr Warner’s self-determined resignation, all ethics committee procedures against him have been closed and the presumption of innocence is maintained.”

Warner, who stepped down as CONCACAF president in 2011, denies any wrongdoing but resigned as Trinidad and Tobago’s minister of security in the island’s coalition government on April 21.

The CONCACAF) integrity report has been under way since June last year. It was commissioned by Jeff Webb, who took over the precidency of CONCACAF after Warner stepped down from the post in response to bribery allegations raised by Blazer, in relation to Mohamed bin Hammam’s  campaign for FIFA president.

Blazer

Turning to Blazer, an American soccer administrator who stands down from FIFA’s executive committee at next month’s FIFA Congress in Mauritius. He had been a member of the FIFA Executive Committee since 1996, and served as Commissioner of the American Soccer League and Executive Vice President of the United States Soccer Federation. He is currently the General Secretary of CONCACAF. Blazer’s allegations against Warner seems to have been an effort to save his own skin by throwing his long-time ally into the garbage. He claimed Warner was involved in a plot to hand $1m in cash to Caribbean officials to vote for Qatar’s Mohamed bin Hammam, who was running against the sitting president, Sepp Blatter.

On August 14, 2011, football journalist Andrew Jennings noted in the UK Independent that the FBI was examining documentary evidence revealing confidential football payments to offshore accounts controlled by Mr Blazer in the Cayman Islands and Bahamas. Reuters reports that an anonymous government source expects that an ongoing FBI investigation into Blazer’s finances will be expanded significantly and joined by the Inland Revenue Service of the US.

Turning to Blazer, Simmons disclosed the American received more than $20m in compensation from CONCACAF, including $17m in commission which were paid, mostly, via an offshore marketing company.

He added that Blazer worked without a contract from July 18, 1998, and his compensation was discussed only three times at CONCACAF meetings during 21 years.

The “forensic audit“ also found Blazer had used the organisation’s funds to “finance his personal lifestyle”, including purchasing plush apartments in Miami’s South Beach while failing to produce tax returns. The report found “no business reason” for the renting of apartments used by Blazer in Manhattan and said the American had also tried to buy property in the Bahamas, in 2007, for about $4m using football funds.

Blazer and Warner have denied any wrongdoing.

Blazer was described by Simmons as “entirely negligent” for failing to file income tax returns for CONCACAF in the United States which led to the body losing its tax-exempt status as a non-profit organization.

Warner, who quit as CONCACAF president in 2011, denies any wrongdoing but resigned as Trinidad and Tobago’s minister of security on Sunday, April 21 after the disclosure of the report this past weekend. He followed that up on Monday by resigning as chairman of the United National Congress party.

When the report was presented to the CONCACAF congress on Friday, David Simmons, CONCACAF integrity judge in charge of the report said:

“I have recounted a sad and sorry tale in the life of CONCACAF, a tale of abuse of position and power, by persons who assisted in bringing the organisation to profitability but who enriched themselves at the expense of their very own organisations.”

The two main characters in the report are Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer. Although the report acknowledges that the two executives have been very active in promoting football in the region, they have also been working hard for their own gain and have been covering up for each other:

“Nevertheless, it is equally apparent that Warner and Blazer, together and individually, used their official positions to promote their own self-interests, and frequently acted with disregard for the interests of the CONCACAF member associations and with disdain for the rules that governed their conduct. Furthermore, it is apparent that Warner and Blazer each was aware of the risk of potential misconduct posed by the other and was most capable of holding the other accountable; but neither did so, at least in part, to preserve the unfettered freedom to act in his own self-interest. This mutual lack of accountability enabled Warner and Blazer to coexist in unity for many years until May 2011, when Blazer disrupted the balance by reporting Warner to FIFA for ethics violations related to Mohamed bin Hammam’s campaign for President of FIFA.”

The Socceroos swindle: Australia pays for stadium “upgrade” – in the Caribbean

One of the issues disclosed in the report is a case involving the Australian bid for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It allegedly offered $US462,200 of taxpayer’s dollars to provide a “stadium upgrade” – the Marvin Lee stadium in Trinidad.

The stadium is part of the so-called $25.9m Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence in Macoya comprising a hotel, swimming pool, convention centre, multi-story health club and the Marvin Lee football stadium. Only the year before artificial turf had been laid on the order of FIFA’s local development officer – one of Jack Warner’s sons. Some of the money invested into the Centre of Excellence came from FIFA loans.

The Centre was not owned by CONCACAF, but – secretly – by two companies owned by Warner. According to the report, “Approximately $26m of CONCACAF funds went into the Centre of Excellence and that is no longer an asset of CONCACAF.” Warner, said Simmons, had “deceived persons and organisations” into believing the facility was CONCACAF’s and not his

For self-serving reasons, the Football Federation Australia (FFA) bought into the deception. What “upgrading” the Australians were funding was never made clear. The Aussie cheque was forwarded through FIFA one month following a visit to the COE centre by an Australian delegation in August, 2010, writes Australian Bonita Mersiades, who used to work for the FFA as a team manager of the Socceroos and Head of Corporate and Public Affairs for the FFA.

She writes that she was fired in January 2010 after telling Australian World Cup Bid officials “on numerous occasions” that they were being “taken for a ride.”

Warner was “a longstanding close friend of Peter Hargitay, one of Australia’s international consultants for the Bid,” she writes.

In an effort to distance themselves, an FFA spokesman told AFP the cash was donated with “complete transparency” and Australian football authorities only became aware it had allegedly been misused when the CONCACAF report came out on April 19th.

According to the report, the money could not be accounted for and seems to have gone to a personal account of Warner’s. In the Sports Business Insider published in Australia, Mersiades documents that “the word ‘allegations’ is there 22 times; ‘misappropriate’ gets 26 mentions; and ‘fraud’ scores 44 hits.”

The “donation” was part of Australia’s attempt to buy international football credentials during its failed bid to host the 2022 World Cup. The affair is reminiscent of Australia’s alleged purchase of votes to obtain the Sydney Olympics.

But the account was allegedly controlled by Warner who pocketed the money and never declared it to CONCACAF, the integrity report said.

“The committee concluded that Warner committed fraud and misappropriated funds that were sent by Football Federation Australia to Concacaf for development of the COE,” the report said.

“(He) breached his fiduciary duties to CONCACAF through fraud and misappropriation of funds.”

Warner was “a longstanding close friend of Peter Hargitay, one of Australia’s international consultants for the Bid,” writes Mersiades.

Despite a $45 million grant from the government and intense lobbying, Australia managed to secure just one vote – and not from Warner – when the FIFA executive committee decided the the 2022 hosts.

Qatar, a dictatorship and sponsor of the foreign armed intervention aimed at destabilizing Syria, was controversially awarded the hosting rights against England.

This is despite the fact that the main rival to the June, 2001 re-election of Serge Blatter, “Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar and then President of the Asian Football Confederation to which Australia belongs, withdrew from the race a few days before the vote. He was later banned for life from all football activity due to the alleged payment of bribes to football officials representing 25 Caribbean member associations.”

Football governance – business as usual

According to AFP, media in Australia said the donation raised questions about the FFA’s decision to give lucrative grants to football organisations headed by influential FIFA officials previously accused of corruption.

For blogger Roger Pielke Jr., who assesses the amount of money involved in the cases accounted for in the integrity report to be 88 million US dollars, one of the main questions this report raises is how FIFA chooses to act on it. In the ongoing “reform process” in FIFA, the international body has rejected two recommendations from the Independent Governance Committee (IGC) in charge of the reform process. These two recommendations relate to integrity checks of the executive members of FIFA.

“Because FIFA has also rejected the (…) recommendation of the IGC, FIFA is in effect saying that it does not want to have the capability to identify such fraudulant activities – even when it comes to the misappropriation of FIFA funds,” Pilke writes.

“Football governance has reached another important fork in the road,” Pielke concludes his blog post.

The international director of Play the Game, a reform organization based in Denmark, Jens Sejer Andersen, praises the quality of CONCACAF’s investigations:

“It is encouraging to see that such a revealing report can be published by the football community itself. If American and Caribbean football leaders could get inspiration from FIFA in the past with regard to the most creative ways of corruption, FIFA can learn a lot from CONCACAF today with regard to cleaning up its acts.”

“It is telling that it took a complete change of CONCACAF’s leadership to reach this degree of transparency. Since FIFA’s leadership seems determined to stay in power, we have unfortunately little reason to believe that FIFA is willing to disclose its internal secrets in a foreseeable future.”

Final comment

Blaming FIFA for its undeniable corruption is in many respects a smokescreen. One can think global but the sphere of action is national and local.

The mendacity of Blazer and Warner would not have lasted a minute without the support of the US and Canadian soccer associations and the state, as illustrated by Blazer’s prominence. The neo-liberal program of the state has forced sport governing bodies to become tools of monopoly capital, which demands the transformation of transform soccer into a private business entirely focused on making as much profit as quickly as possible, regardless of what that means for the players, the club, the sport or the popular interest.

The exposé of Warner’s Centre in Trinidad have their parallel in Canada. The privatization of the National Soccer Centre, built with public funds to host the FIFA Under-21 tournament, was entrusted by the City of Toronto to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) in a P-3 pay the rich scheme. The sports monopoly, co-owned by BCE and Rogers Communications, then received stadium free of charge, renamed it BMO Field and pocketed $10 million in naming rights, and used it to acquire a franchise in Major League Soccer, Toronto First Choce.

This demands democratic renewal of the political structures which includes the national sport governing bodies.

For those genuinely concerned about corruption in football, within the context of the political demand for democratic renewal, what one can do for the game is to also head down to their local soccer club and ensure that it’s not part of the problem by fiddling the books and telling porkies to one and all about where the money goes. That at least would be a step in the right direction.

This report is based on reports from Agence France Press (AFP), Play the Game and the Sports Business Insider, Australia.

Additional sources

http://www.concacafintegrityreport.com/

http://leastthing.blogspot.dk/2013/04/the-concacaf-integrity-report.html

http://sportsbusinessinsider.com.au/news/sport/football/ffa-pays-462200-for-stadium-upgrade-in-the-caribbean/

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/04/21/3996359/trinidad-pm-says-jack-warner-quits.html

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