PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) – Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar says she will not be rushed into making any public statement on international reports that her National Security Minister Austin ‘Jack’ Warner may be implicated in a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe involving soccer’s global governing body.
“I will not rely on published reports in the media, but will again seek to get official corroboration of the information now in the public domain before making any determination or pronouncement,” Persad Bissessar said in a statement late Wednesday.
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley has in the past consistently called on Persad Bissessar to dismiss Warner from the Cabinet over the International Football Federation (FIFA) scandal. He has so far made no comment on the latest disclosure.
Reuters News Service in an exclusive report Wednesday said that an FBI probe into alleged corruption in international soccer has recently intensified after investigators persuaded a key party to be a cooperating witness, US law enforcement sources said.
The news agency quoted the sources as saying that Daryan Warner, the son of the National Security Minister and former FIFA vice-president is assisting the probe, but could not say who might be charged, or when.
“While the exact scope of the investigation is not clear, among the matters under scrutiny are two previously reported allegations involving Jack Warner, who is currently national security minister in his native Trinidad and Tobago.
“The deepening of the probe indicates that a succession of corruption scandals involving FIFA and other international soccer bodies in the past few years may continue to cast a cloud over the sport for some time,” Reuters reported.
The international news agency said that Warner has not been charged with any wrongdoing and that since 2011, the FBI has been examining more than US$500,000 in payments made by the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) over the past 20 years to an offshore company.
It said that was a period during which Warner was also head of the CFU, a position he held from the early 1980s until 2011, and that the precise reasons for many of those payments is unclear.
This is not the first time that Persad Bissessar has sought to tread carefully in international football matters involving Warner, the former head of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
In 2011, she stood by her embattled senior cabinet minister, when he was temporarily suspended by FIFA, while allegations of bribery against him were being investigated.
She said then that it is a fundamental tenet of the rule of law that a man is innocent until proven guilty.
“This right is enshrined in the constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and is an important pillar in our system of justice. And so, the decision by FIFA to initiate a “provisional suspension” of its vice president Jack Warner, pending investigation, is not a determination of guilt, but part of a process that we trust will be fair and unprejudiced,” she said.
Football’s world governing body had pledged to investigate bribery allegations against Warner, former presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam and two Caribbean Football Union (CFU) officials, temporarily suspending them from activity connected with the game.
Warner and Bin Hammam had been accused of offering US$40,000 to national associations of the CFU at a meeting on May 10 and 11, in return for their votes in the FIFA presidential election.
Bin Hammam was to face incumbent FIFA president Sepp Blatter for the top post in the game in an election on June 1, 2011 in Zurich, Switzerland, but withdrew his challenge amidst the allegations.
Warner had promised to “say a lot on this matter” and had vowed to “vigorously defend my reputation as well as the reputation of the rest of the Caribbean members”.
But Warner later quit his FIFA and CONCACAF positions in June 2011 and FIFA afterwards declared that, "the presumption of innocence is maintained" in his case.