Thursday, July 2, 2015

Gifts in the millions

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Ex-FIFA vice president: Jack Warner

Mark Fraser

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Financial support: The FA agreed to sponsor a dinner hosted by the Caribbean Football Union, of which Jack Warner was founder and president, to the tune of £35,608—or TT$382,900.

Mark Fraser


Former high-flying FIFA execu­tive and Member of Parliament for Chaguanas West Jack Warner accepted gifts from nations bidding to secure World Cup hosting rights in the run-up to the 2010 vote in violation of the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA) and FIFA’s own bid rules.



Sunday Express investigations have found Warner accepted gifts valued in the millions of dollars from bidding nations, including the English football association, The FA; the Russians, Qatar’s Mohammed bin Hammam and Australia. Gifts, according to his annual filings, that were not disclosed to the Integrity Commission or the Board of Inland Revenue, as required by law.



In the months leading up to the December 2010 vote for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, The FA sought to curry favour with the former Caribbean football jefe and voting member of FIFA, the world governing body for football, according to documents seen by this reporter.



The FA’s Director of Campaign Operations for England’s 2018 bid, Jane Bateman, was the point person in contact with Warner, the powerful and influential former Executive Committee (ExCo) member of FIFA who was forced out of world administrative football in 2011 by a cash-for-votes affair at the Hyatt Regency (Trinidad) hotel in Port of Spain.



Documents obtained by the Sunday Express reveal The FA agreed to sponsor a dinner hosted by the Carib­bean Football Union (CFU), of which Warner was founder and president, to the tune of £35,608 or TT$382,900.



In the run-up to FIFA’s controversial bid to select host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, England sought to secure Warner’s support by footing the bill for the Warner-arranged CFU dinner at the Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence, Macoya, and provide financial and technical support for other Warner-identified development projects in Trinidad. 



Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and former English star footballer David Beckham also flew to Trinidad in the frantic bid to woo the very influential Jack Warner, who was not shy about asking for favours, as documents seen by this newspaper show.



In a February 15, 2010, e-mail to Bateman, the substantive head of The FA’s International Relations, Warner wrote: “Dear Jane, Indeed, I had a very successful meeting with your affable Deputy High Commissioner, His Excellency Geoff Patton, which as usual is always quite cordial and very productive. During that meeting I did indicate my willingness to have The FA attend the CFU Congress scheduled to take place during the period February 24 – 28, 2010 and host a reception.”



Warner noted: “In this regard I do extend my invitation to The FA and I eagerly await your proposal as promised concerning the recepti­on.”



In the back-and-forth discussions relating to The FA’s hospitality to the CFU, Warner, in a February 16 e-mail to Bateman said: “I will arrange for your visit to Longdenville with the usual media hype as soon as you advise me of your travel schedule and the members of your delegation.”



In an e-mail response that same day, Bateman thanked Warner for the background information provided on Longdenville and noted: “Very interesting. We would be happy to look for a twinning partner for Longdenville and will give it some thought prior to our visit, although it may be easier to do so once we have been there. Also, we would be very happy to visit during our stay.”



Warner had included a newspaper report published in the Guar­dian titled “Longdenville sportsmen appeal to Jack Warner”, in his bid to drum up financial support for his old hometown. He told Bateman in the February 16 e-mail about a meeting he had with the village folk.



“There was much discussion on the nature of the problem of the sportsmen and, following this, I informed them that I shall make every effort, through my international contacts, to assist them as per the newspaper report.”



He said the needs of the villagers were “basic” and related to the repair of the Longdenville recreation ground and the “provision of some cricket and football equipment”. He also revealed a personal political motive for the request, as this excerpt shows. 



“In successfully assisting them (villagers) my political stocks locally (which are presently on a high) will soar positioning me in an extremely favourable position to successfully lead my Party in local elections which are due in six months time as well as in general elections which shall become due 18 months later.”



In another e-mail to Bateman on February 21, 2010, Warner noted: “Jane, once again, I do wish to thank The FA for its sponsorship of the CFU dinner. The dinner will have a total of 160 persons coming from 30 countries and is really the flagship event of the CFU. I enclose the dinner budget for The FA’s attention and action—be seeing you soon.”



Warner did not immediately respond to a voice mail request for comment and Bateman, who initially said she would respond by the close of Friday, yesterday referred the Sunday Express to The FA’s press office.



Scott Field, an FA media official yesterday made clear that: “We’ll take seriously any allegation you make that The FA operated outside of any rules or made any financial payments.”



He said: “Officially, we have no comment to make on the assertions. As I say we will take any accusation of wrongdoing very seriously.”



FIFA rules disallowed bid committees or any of their associations from giving gifts to FIFA officials or trying to influence the vote in any way despite persistent accusations of rampant corruption in the world football governing body and an ongoing corruption investigation relating to Qatar’s successful bid for the 2022 World Cup by FIFA ethics investigator Michael Garcia.



The bid committees were bound by FIFA rules which state that gifts given during the World Cup bidding process should be no more than “occasional gifts that are generally regarded as having symbolic or incidental value”.



The value of Russia’s largesse was reported to be over US$100,000—hardly the incidental value described in the FIFA-issued bid rules. The former Soviet power picked up a tab said to be over US$100,000 for a four-day visit to Russia for Warner, his wife Maureen and two aides, according to documents seen by this newspaper. 



Warner stayed at the Ritz Carlton and had private meetings with Russian President and the then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russia’s Sport, Tourism and Youth Policy Minister Vitaly Mukto and Transport and Communication Minister Igor Levitin.



He toured the historic Russian Kremlin (a fortified complex at the heart of Moscow), met with Putin at the Russian White House and took in the Swan Lake ballet at the Stanis­lavsky Theatre before flying to Zurich on October 27, 2010.



In the case of the Australians, a US$462,000 donation for a Trinidad stadium upgrade ended up in Warner’s pockets. Australia also provided a US$2.5 million grant to Warner’s buddy and president of the Jamaican Football Federation Captain Horace Burrell late in the bidding process in October 2010.



Former corporate affairs manager of Australia’s Football Federation Bonita Mersiades told the Sunday Express about the machinations and backroom deal-making of Australia’s bid consultant, Peter Hagitay, whom she described as “a very old friend of Jack Warner”.



She told the Sunday Express how Hagitay harangued her about a gift of pearl jewelry handed out to FIFA ExCo members and their partners at a private dinner held at the private mansion of billionaire Frank Lowy, president of the Fede­ration and one of Australia’s richest men in 2008 before the FIFA-issued bid rules in 2009.



She said she kept being told by Hagitay “Jack’s wife wanted her pearls”.



Mersiades said: “He told me, my boss Ben Buckley and the president Frank Lowy at least ten times that Jack was asking for his wife’s pearl necklace. I was told by Ben Buckley to buy one and get it to her, which I did. I purchased it at a shop in Dubai en route to Zurich as I had a ten-hour stopover. It was on a 50 per cent sale in Dubai and it cost around US$1,000.”



Mersiades said the pearl pendant for Mrs Warner was purchased after the bid rules were issued. 



“At the time I bought them I sent a note to my boss and to Frank Lowy more or less saying I felt very uncomfortable buying this necklace at this time as it fell outside the FIFA guidelines. I don’t consider a US$2,000 gift to be incidental but the reaction to the note was to be told not to write a note like that again. Buckley told me off about it!”



She said Australia also flew Trinidad and Tobago’s Under-20 team to a training camp in Cyprus at a cost of about US$250,000. She also talked about the debate over the gift Australia’s former prime minister Kevin Rudd should give Warner during a November 2009 visit to Trinidad for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.



Mersiades said she had suggested a bottle of red Australian wine, but Hagitay objected, saying it would be “insulting” and that a case of wine would be a more appropriate gift. She said Rudd gave Warner a bottle and Hagitay wrote in an e-mail that: “A bottle of wine is a bit very cheesy/cheap if not embarrassing. If anything, a case is more of an idea.”



She said Warner was very well treated by the Aussies. “Almost every bit of advice that Hagitay gave us was through the prism of Jack Warner. It got to the stage where I asked Peter and my boss why we were so focused on Warner when his own Confederation via the USA was bidding.” She said she found Warner to be “very affable, friendly and easy to talk to”.



“He had no airs or graces. At functions, he was always generous with his time. In this regard, he was a typical politician and very dissimilar to his friend, Hagitay,” said Bonita, who wrote this about the Warners in her book, The Bid—Secre­ts of the Battle to Host the World Cup: “Jack and Maureen looked like any other well-heeled couple in their late 60s. They both looked fit and healthy; Jack was wearing his FIFA blue blazer over a yellow, white and navy striped polo shirt; Maureen was wearing black trousers and top with a lime green Jackie O-style jacket, trimmed with black. I was disappointed she wasn’t wearing her pearl pendant.”








• Continues next Sunday