Jack Warner, the beleaguered football supremo from Trinidad and Tobago, who had been suspended by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) pending the outcome of a bribery enquiry, appears to have thrown in the towel. But he is anything but ashen-faced and tight-lipped even though on Monday he resigned as vice-president of FIFA, president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and president of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU). Rather he continues to breathe noisy defiance in the face of accusations of corruption and calls for his resignation or firing as his country’s Minister of Works and Transport. With typical bravado, he has described these calls as “foolishness,” promising “a lot of action” on the local political front.
FIFA, already rocked by the scandal that has threatened to expose the institutional venality it is widely reputed to foster, has accepted Mr Warner’s resignation and has issued a statement to the effect that “all Ethics Committee procedures against him have been closed and the presumption of innocence is maintained.”
For his part, Mr Warner has said that his resignation was “voluntary” and his lawyer has stated that his client has been “cleared” and that the resignation was “separate and apart from FIFA’s decision to vindicate him.”
It is, however, a sudden capitulation by the man who had promised to unleash a “football tsunami” when the allegations were first made public. And for one who vehemently protests his innocence, it is passing strange that Mr Warner should also say that he would rather “die first” than meet with former FBI director Louis Freeh, who has been retained by FIFA to investigate allegations of bribery within the organisation.
The cynical thought can only be that some sort of deal might have been cut with the FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, to have the investigation dropped and information withheld from other investigating authorities such as the Trinidad and Tobago police, in exchange for Mr Warner’s silent departure to spare any more of FIFA’s dirty laundry being aired.
Anyone who has followed Mr Warner’s colourful career would know that he is no stranger to melodrama and controversy. He has got himself out of tight corners before, but this is the first time that he has been forced to back down so massively, ending his more than 30-year association with football, which has made him rich and powerful.
It does not seem as if the matter will die here though. The Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI) has said that it is regrettable that FIFA has closed the investigation into Mr Warner, without formally clearing his name. TTTI has also recommended that in the absence of any public withdrawal of the accusations, including those of aiding and abetting the alleged attempt by Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar to bribe CFU officials at a meeting in Trinidad to support his bid for the FIFA presidency, there be an independent investigation. After all, a government minister’s reputation is at stake and “other investigations still underway into whether any laws of Trinidad and Tobago [regarding the movement of currency] have been broken should be completed and appropriate action taken to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion.” Of course, by extension, the government and the country are also tainted by the allegations, though not everyone in Trinidad and Tobago necessarily takes that view.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is reportedly standing by her man, which is unsurprising since Mr Warner is also the chairman of the United National Congress (UNC) and supposedly one of the party’s main financiers. In addition, he is perceived to be the most hardworking and effective minister in the cabinet and commands huge popularity in many parts of the country, even if he is not entirely trusted by elements in the UNC’s hierarchy. But Mr Warner’s time may be running out.
The British Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday that the FIFA Ethics Committee’s report has found that there is “a ‘compelling’ prima facie case that Bin Hammam was engaged in an act of bribery, and that Warner was ‘an accessory to corruption’.” According to the Telegraph, “it is understood that the ethics committee’s findings were sent to Mr Warner last week, three days before he resigned from all football posts.”
This may explain Mr Warner’s quickness to resign and perhaps to seek a deal. But will he be nimble enough to save his skin this time around?