25 Jul 2012
- Written by Andre Bagoo (T&T Newsday)
- Hits: 531
MINISTER of National Security and former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, in 2011, held a secret US-dollar account in which he co-mingled personal and football business funds, according to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) which yesterday published a full written judgment in relation to allegations of bribery against former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam.
Last week, the CAS announced that it was quashing a lifetime ban imposed on Bin Hammam by FIFA in relation to allegations that Bin Hammam had attempted to bribe Caribbean Football Union (CFU) officials at a meeting organised by Warner at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain on May 10, 2011. The court announced it was overturning the FIFA ban for a lack of evidence against Bin Hammam.
However, in its 56-page written ruling the CAS further explained that a large part of the case against Bin Hammam was based on statements made by Warner. The court said it had thrown out all statements made by Warner in the case because he was an “unreliable witness.”
In its ruling, which has been obtained by Newsday, the Switzerland-based court found that:
* Warner held a secret US-dollar account which contained at least US$455,000 (TT$2.8 million) in which he mingled personal funds and CFU football funds;
* an orange and black suitcase which contained piles of cash allegedly used to bribe CFU officials was kept at Warner’s football office at Port-of-Spain hours before it was transported to the Hyatt;
* Warner’s statements to FIFA linking Bin Hammam to the US$40,000 (TT$252,000) cash gifts offered to CFU members could not be relied on because Warner was an “unreliable witness” who “appears to be prone to an economy with the truth”;
* Warner declined a request made by the court to appear before it even though he was a “central figure” in the case against Bin Hammam;
* there was evidence that an official employed at the Ministry of Works and Transport was sent to Piarco airport to welcome Bin Hammam in May 2011.
In relation to the secret bank account, the court said there was “ample” evidence that Warner placed funds from the CFU in it and mixed it with personal funds. At least TT$2.8 million in payments were made via cheque out of this account to Chuck Blazer, the FIFA executive committee member and one-time Warner ally who has been said to have first reported allegations against Bin Hammam to FIFA.
“There is ample evidence that Mr Warner ran a secret US dollar bank account in which he co-mingled CFU and personal funds,” the CAS found in its 2-1 majority judgment. “Two cheques were drawn on this account in the sum of US$455,000 and paid to Mr Blazer just a few weeks before the events in Trinidad and Tobago (there is no evidence that any accounting or explanation has been given to the CFU of the reasons for these large payments).”
The court said there was evidence that CFU member Anton Sealey, the president of the Bahamas Football Federation, was unaware of the existence of the account. CAS criticised previous reports, done by the Freeh Group and attorney John Collins for FIFA, for failing to probe the accounts of the CFU.
“The panel considers that the Freeh and Collins reports did not sufficiently investigate the existence of CFU accounts to check whether the CFU had ever had enough funds to provide the cash gifts, or whether there had been cash withdrawals from these accounts. Asked about Mr Warner sending in the previous two months two cheques totalling US$455,000 to Mr Blazer on a CFU account, Mr Sealey answered that he did not know that CFU had a secret account and that he could therefore not exclude that the money came from CFU accounts.”
The court called Warner “a central figure” in the case against Bin Hammam and reveals for the first time that the FIFA case against Bin Hammam depended largely on statements Warner gave to the FIFA ethics committee in which he claimed Bin Hammam gave him “gifts” to give to CFU officials at the Hyatt meeting. However, the court found Warner’s evidence unsatisfactory.
“The majority of the panel concludes that Mr Warner is an unreliable witness, and anything he has said in relation to the matters before the panel is to be treated with caution,” the court found. “If Mr Warner had been available for examination, it may have been possible to place some degree of reliance on some of his statements, including those against his own interest. The panel invited him to appear, but he has declined to do so.”
CAS further noted Warner gave conflicting accounts of what happened in May 2011.
“Mr Warner appears to be prone to an economy with the truth,” the court said. “He has made numerous statements as to events that are contradicted by other persons, and his own actions are marked by manifest and frequent inconsistency. Most significantly, he made a statement on May 29, 2011, before the FIFA ethics committee, declaring that no cash gifts had been offered, a claim that is directly contradicted by the video evidence of his statement on May 11, 2011, when he referred to the gifts that had been given the previous day.”
The court noted that a transcript of that video revealed Warner said the gifts, which turned out to be envelopes stuffed with US$40,000 cash, were from Bin Hammam who had wanted to bring “silver trinkets”.
In the video, Warner is seen attempting to explain the gifts after he called an unscheduled early meeting on May 11, one day after the gifts were given out in a Hyatt room. The court noted the transcript of the video records him as saying to CFU delegates, “It (the gift) was given to you because he (Bin Hammam) said he could not bring the silver... some silver trinkets and so on, and something with Qatari sand....We don’t need Qatari sand….Barbados sand is as good as Qatari sand if not better. So I said what is wrong with that? Put a value on it and give the countries, and the gift you get is for you to determine how best you want to use it for development for football in your country.
Whether you want to pay salaries, whether you want to pay rent, whether you want to buy equipment, whatever, it is for development but it’s not a gift that I want him to give to you. Because as I said before I did not want it to appear that it would buy votes.”
The court continued, “In these circumstances, the majority of the panel finds it difficult to place any reliance on any statement he (Warner) has made, whether in the form of a witness statement or in anything he has said to a third person and which is before the panel in the form of evidence provided by that third person.”
The court continues, “As a result, the majority of the panel regrets that it is unable to place any particular weight or reliance on any statement made by Mr Warner, or alleged to have been made by him, in its assessment of the facts of this case.”
The court said in the absence of any other evidence it could not find as a fact that Bin Hammam gave the money to Warner to give to the CFU officials.
“For its part, (the) circumstantial evidence turns largely on statements attributed to Mr Warner. If Mr Warner and his statements are taken out of the equation, the record of evidence in relation to (FIFA’s) case on the origins of the suitcase and the monies it contained is founded on extremely limited sources, to put the point generously,” the court said.
Though it was not satisfied in relation to the evidence of the bribery claims against Bin Hammam, the CAS nonetheless raised the possibility that Bin Hammam may not have even known about the cash gifts and that Warner, who appeared to have changed his story after the gifts were reported to FIFA by Blazer, may have first offered the gifts to the CFU members on his own volition to “curry favour” with them.
“The possibility cannot be excluded that Mr Warner subsequently decided to pass on some or all of the money to the members of the CFU, to curry further favour with them, and that Mr Bin Hammam may not even have known that this occurred,” the court opined.
The panel comprised José María Alonso Puig, an attorney-at-law from Madrid, Spain (president);
Philippe J Sands QC, a UK barrister and Professor of Law at University College London (arbitrator); Romano F Subiotto QC, a solicitor-advocate based at Brussels, Belgium and London, UK (arbitrator). Víctor Bonnín Reynés, another Spanish attorney-at-law, was the panel’s ad hoc clerk.
The court also made key findings in relation to the events that took place during Bin Hammam’s visit from May 9, 2011, to May 11, 2011. It found that it was an “undisputed fact” that a suitcase of cash came from Warner’s Concacaf office, which is located at Dundonald Street, Port-of-Spain.
“It is not in dispute that on the afternoon of May 10, 2011, each CFU national association representative was invited to collect a gift in the boardroom, or that the gift was in the form of a cash offering contained in an unmarked envelope in the amount of US$ 40,000. Nor is it in dispute that the envelopes were offered by Jason Sylvester and Debbie Minguell, both employees of the CFU.”
“It is further not disputed that the cash gifts had been placed in a suitcase that was handed over to Mr Sylvester and Ms Minguell by Ms Angenie Kanhai, secretary general of the CFU at the time of the material events. This was confirmed in her witness statement and during the hearing,” the CAS said.
Further, “There is no dispute either that Ms Kanhai went to Mr Jack Warner’s office at about 2.30 pm on May 10, 2011, from where she collected, from one of Mr Warner’s assistants, the suitcase that contained the envelopes. It is not challenged that the suitcase was locked and that the key was in a front pocket.”
“During the hearing, Ms Kanhai observed that ‘the suitcase was a very good quality one, orange and black, and it was not the kind of suitcase that Mr Warner normally uses’.” The court said the latter evidence did not help to determine the further issue of the origins of the cash.
“Interesting as these observations may be, they cannot be dispositive one way or the other on the question of whether the suitcase, as well as the monies that it contained, were provided by Mr Bin Hammam,” it remarked.
For the first time, the judgment gives evidence that the lines between Warner’s role as a Government minister and a FIFA football official may have blurred. The CAS noted evidence from Kanhai which suggested that a salaried official employed at the “Ministry of Transport” was sent by Warner to greet Bin Hammam at the airport on May 9, 2011. At that time, Warner was Minister of Works and Transport.
“When asked by the panel about Mr Bin Hammam’s arrival to Trinidad and Tobago on the evening of May 9, 2011, Ms Kanhai stated that at that time Mr Warner was the Minister of Transport, and that his Ministry’s protocol officer collected Mr Bin Hammam from the airport,” the CAS said.
CAS noted Warner quit FIFA last year amid the bribery allegations. It also said it had “serious concern” that FIFA decided to stop its investigation of Warner after he quit.
“The panel is bound to note that there was apparently no requirement to close those FIFA ethics committee procedures, as it is plain to it that FIFA would continue to be able to exercise jurisdiction over acts occurring whilst Mr Warner was a FIFA official.”
“Mr Warner is at the heart of the events of May 10 and 11, and there is every possibility that if the FIFA investigations of Mr Warner had continued at least some of the missing facts that have hampered the work of this panel – facts that go to the heart of the gaps in the events - might have been clearly established, one way or the other. By closing the Ethics Committee procedures, FIFA disabled itself from pursuing a proper, thorough and complete investigation.”
The court said FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who, unlike Warner, appeared before the CAS, declined to answer questions surrounding the circumstances of Warner quitting FIFA.
Warner last week welcomed the CAS’s announcement saying its ruling was a “vindication” and a “victory of reason”.