Warner quits Trinidad cabinet after damning CONCACAF report

Peter Richards

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Monday April 22, 2013 – Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar announced last night that her embattled National Security Minister Austin “Jack” Warner had resigned less than 72 hours after the publication of a report by the CONCACAF Integrity Committee that had been deeply critical of the former international football boss. 

“I have today accepted the resignation of the Minister of National Security Mr Jack Warner from the Cabinet of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

“I wish to thank Mr Warner for his service to the government and people of Trinidad and Tobago,” she said.

In a brief statement, following an emergency Cabinet meeting at her private home at Palmiste, south of here, Prime Minister Persad Bissessar said that  she had advised President Anthony Carmona “to revoke the appointment of Mr Warner” and appoint Works and Infrastructure Minister Emmanuel George as the new national security minister.

She said Local Government Minister Suruj Rambachan will take over George’s portfolio.

Warner’s removal from the Cabinet followed widespread calls for Prime Minister Persad Bissessar to act immediately on the contents of the report of the CONCACAF Integrity Committee that was released in Panama on Friday.

The Congress of the People (COP), the second biggest partner in the four-party coalition People’s Partnership government, said that Warner, who served as CONCACF president for nearly two decades, should either step down or be removed.

COP leader and Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar said his party had taken note of the final report of the CONCACAF Integrity Committee after a year-long investigation into allegations against Warner and the former general secretary Chuck Blazer.

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said while he welcomed Warner’s departure from the Cabinet, he is still critical of Prime Minister Persad Bissessar for “not taking action” to deal with the situation.

“What bothers me is the fact that the prime minister has failed to do her duty and reluctantly only after public pressure became too great to bear and the political price too high she has reluctantly allowed Mr Warner to put forth a resignation.

“This was no matter for offering a resignation. There had been many, many instances for Mr Warner’s removal from the Cabinet as the logical thing to do and the Prime Minister protected and promoted him until she can go no further,” Rowley said on television.

Former Barbados chief justice Sir David Simmons, who headed CONCACAF’s Integrity Committee, presented the CONCACAF’s congress in Panama with a detailed report into allegations of financial mismanagement by Warner and Blazer, based on documents and interviews with 38 people.

Neither Warner nor Blazer cooperated with the investigation.

“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 organisations,” said Sir David.

Delegates responded angrily to the report, with one describing Warner, who is Minister of National Security in the Trinidad and Tobago government, and American Blazer as “white collar thieves”.

But in a statement, Warner said while he has not had the chance to “fully read the report of CONCACAF today where allegations have been made against me, I left CONCACAF and turned my back on football two years ago. Since then I have had no interest in any football related matter”.

He said the CONCACAF’s report “is of no concern to me and as far as I am aware it is baseless and malicious”.

The Movement for Social justice (MSJ), which quit the coalition government, had also called for Warner’s removal.

MSJ leader David Abdulah said the Cabinet lacks good judgment in its “wholehearted endorsement” of Warner.

“Essentially, the executive summary of the report is … clear and the eminent members of the committee have said categorically that Warner is guilty of fraud and misappropriation of funds of FIFA and CONCACAF. That is more than sufficient reason for his removal from government,” Abdulah said.

The main opposition People’s National Movement (PNM), which had been calling for Warner’s removal since he was appointed to Cabinet in 2010 following the general elections here, has filed a motion in Parliament to be debated on Friday questioning the non-action of the prime minister in taking decisive action against Warner.

In the report, the Integrity Committee found that Warner did not disclose to CONCACAF, which represents soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, or world governing body FIFA that a US$25.9 million Centre of Excellence was built on land owned by his companies in Trinidad and Tobago.

“Approximately US$26 million of CONCACAF funds went into Centre of Excellence and that is no longer an asset of CONCACAF,” said Sir David.

CONCACAF is looking at legal options regarding the Centre.

Sir David said Blazer received more than US$20 million in compensation from CONCACAF, including US$17 million in commission.

The report also found “no business reason” for the renting of apartments used by Blazer in Manhattan and said the American had also tried to buy property in the Bahamas, in 2007, for about four million US dollars using football funds.

Sir David in his report said Blazer was “entirely negligent” for failing to file income tax returns for CONCACAF in the United States which led to the body losing its tax-exempt status as a non-profit organisation.

In his report, Sir David said the Trinidad-based auditors for CONCACAF during the Warner era, Kenny Rampersad and Company, were not independent and cited documented proof that Warner and Blazer were clients of the firm.

In 2011 Warner walked away from football and did not face a FIFA Ethics Commission inquiry relating to bribery allegations surrounding the body’s presidential election, while Blazer resigned as general secretary in December that year.(CMC) Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)