(Trinidad Express) Former football powerhouse and the man who up until April this year had the political back of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Austin Jack Warner used a complex network of companies to help build the family fortune and dodge scrutiny of several financial institutions, the national tax authorities and the state watchdog agency, the Integrity Commission (IC).
Warner used an opaque web of puppet companies to make high-end property buys, do deals and solicit huge cash donations from wealthy business interests that not only grew his own private family empire but also put a large flood of money into the 2010 general elections, Sunday Express investigations have revealed.
Warner, who has been embroiled in multiple corruption scandals, was a key political benefactor of the majority party coalition Government, the United National Congress (UNC). According to persons with knowledge of the situation, he was a political patron who put other people’s big money to work to propel the UNC into office.
He changed the party’s political fortunes and for that grand influential act, the cabinet of which he was a powerful and high-ranking member, cast a blind eye to the many reports of financial misdoings and misconduct in public office, peddling the defence that some of the allegations predated his political career in the People’s Partnership administration.
Warner’s former cabinet colleagues, including the Prime Minister, also dismissed the corruption allegations that surfaced during his early tenure in office, including the bribes-for-votes affair which played out at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Port of Spain, as a private matter between him and his then employer, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
The then Commissioner of Police, Canadian Dwayne Gibbs’ first response to the Port of Spain-arranged bribery scandal was that no crime had been committed. And, more than two years after individual envelopes of US$40,000 cash were distributed to Caribbean Football Union (CFU) delegates at a waterfront hotel room, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard is yet to say what, if any action, would be taken in relation to the allegation of misconduct in public office.
It took the spectre of a US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) probe in connection with payments made through a phantom company bank account, CFU and an April finding of fraud and financial mismanagement by a Concacaf commissioned Integrity Committee, headed by former chief justice of Barbados Sir David Simmons, to force a Government shakedown on the man widely regarded as an untouchable.
The corrosive influence of money on politics was taken to fresh levels by the former FIFA jefe and continues unchecked today even as the Persad-Bissessar administration talks about a legislative procurement fix and campaign finance reform. As reported previously by this reporter, Warner used a slew of private companies and parallel football-related bank accounts to funnel tens of millions of dollars into the party’s war chest and into his own personal moneybags.
CFU, a phantom entity which Warner operated as a legal corporate regional football body for over two decades was in fact an opaque structure used as a business front to channel rich broadcast and other deals back to Warner and his related profit centres, including his Cayman registered corporation, J&D International.
As disclosed previously by this newspaper, huge cash transactions also flowed through the Dr Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence (CoE) and related shell corporations, income flows that were not reported to the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) in breach of this country’s tax laws.
Warner, one of the three beneficial interests behind the CoE partnership, has failed to declare his share of income from the Macoya business as required under the Income Tax Act. He and his wife Maureen are the substantive interests named in the two entities listed as the other owners of the CoE: Renraw Ltd and CCAM Ltd.
Neither of the two Warner entities has filed corporation tax returns in the last seven years. And, as reported by the Sunday Express on October 20, the former government minister has failed to file corporation tax returns for any of his registrable business interests disclosed in his statements of return to the Integrity Commission.
Political donations and money diverted from several football bodies in which he played the leading role also flowed through some of his other business entities, including: Jamad Ltd (his offshore Cayman Island company J&D International), JLM Quality Ltd (the Joanne Mora business front used to solicit over $9.5 million from contractors and other wealthy business interests that do work for the state), Jamad Maintenance Services Ltd, Catch of the D Day, JAW Ltd, JAW Holdings Ltd and LOC Germany 2006 Ltd.
The once powerful football figure, who the Simmons Report accused of stealing a US$26 million CoE asset from Concacaf (football’s ruling body for North and Central America and the Caribbean) also succeeded in securing a near US$8 million in borrowings from the State-owned First Citizens bank in a fraudulent mortgage transaction.
The bank facilitated two unauthorised mortgages to Warner which committed the football confederation to borrowings of a near US$8 million without the requisite authority. It turned out that the signatories used by Warner were not corporate officers and had no legal authority to enter into any agreement of any kind on behalf of Concacaf.
As with reports of a CoE bank account which was in receipt of huge sums of Concacaf money about which the Simmons Integrity Committee was unable to get any information from First Citizens, the State-owned bank took cover behind the veil of bank/customer confidentiality.
In reporting on the IC’s findings in Panama City, Sir David noted: “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 organization.”
He was also sharply critical of Warner’s chief accountant and main man of business Kenny Rampersad who did the books for all of the several football bodies, including LOC Germany, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF), CFU and Concacaf. The new management of the now legally incorporated CFU has been unable to get any financial or bank information from Rampersad and Warner.
Rampersad was listed as an office contact for Multi Stores Ltd, one of seven Warner companies identified in a 2009 website for the Warner Group of Companies (WGOC). The company was said to provide warehouse rental space.
The Warner family empire is comprised of over 60 business entities, including: Nauti Krew Ltd (which featured in several high-profile World Cup ticketing transactions), Simpaul’s Travel (another infamous Warner entity at the heart of a World Cup ticketing scandal), La Batimeat Ltd, Ah Hair Yuh Ltd, 1 Plus 1 Ltd, DW Property Holdings Ltd (the beneficiary of a $95,000-a-month State rental contract in December 2010 when Warner was a cabinet minister), Haul It Ltd, Hand To Mouth Ltd, Pines Avenue Ltd, Portable Sanitation Services Ltd, Red Light District Ltd, The Tawah Ltd, Visitors Lane Ltd, We Buy Houses Ltd, D’Reef Ltd, Eat While Hot Ltd, The Officers Ball, Wicked Weasel and D’Cheetah.