But Warner, in immediate response, accused the committee of an abuse of process.
“The decision to suspend me is an abuse of process and achieves no real purpose...and demonstrates the bias of this inquiry,” Warner said in a statement e-mailed yesterday afternoon from Zurich, Switzerland, where he attended a hearing of the committee hours earlier.
The committee, chaired by Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb, announced at a press conference at FIFA headquarters at Zurich, Switzerland, that Warner and former FIFA presidential candidate Mohammed bin Hammam were suspended pending a full forensic investigation into the allegations.
Both men are accused of offering $252,000 (US$40,000) bribes in May to visiting officials of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) in exchange for the officials supporting bin Hammam at the FIFA elections.
“We are satisfied that there is a case to answer,” Damaseb, who is also the Judge President of the Namibian High Court, said. “Therefore, a full inquiry is going to be held in due course.”
At the same time, however, the committee declined to suspend FIFA presidential incumbent Sepp Blatter, who was also subject to allegations that he knew about the bribe offers but did not report them.
The decision to not suspend Blatter, on the eve of the FIFA presidential elections which will proceed this week, effectively cleared the way for him to stand for the post uncontested after bin Hammam yesterday morning issued a statement announcing he had withdrawn from the race.
Bin Hammam was also yesterday suspended along with two CFU officials, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester. The committee acted on a complaint from Chuck Blazer, an executive FIFA member and CONCACAF general secretary.
The decision of the ethics committee places pressure on Government, which has in the past defended Warner’s holding of simultaneous posts in Cabinet and at FIFA. The local chapter of Transparency International yesterday called for Warner to be removed from office temporarily pending the FIFA investigation.
After issuing a media statement, Warner remained locked in meetings with his attorney Om Lalla at Zurich up to last night, sources close to him told Newsday. He is due to return to Trinidad on Wednesday.
Damaseb said the interim suspensions are expected to last 30 days but could be renewed at the discretion of the committee. Full hearings are due in late June/early July, he said. He noted yesterday’s hearing lasted approximately eight hours and comprised oral representations from Warner, bin Hammam and Blatter.
Two officials from the CFU, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, who were also summoned to the committee, failed to attend despite being offered to have their travel expenses paid by FIFA, Damaseb said.
“Each allegation was put to the person alleged to have committed an infringement,” he told reporters at Zurich. “In the case of Mr bin Hammam, he made a full statement on his behalf denying the allegations. Mr Jack Warner also presented written representations fully denying the allegations and filed supporting statements by certain associations alleging that the conduct complained about never happened.”
The committee also considered the allegations made by Blazer through an attorney, John Collins. Damaseb noted the evidential threshold used to determine if a case was made out was “low”.
“Does there appear to be an infringement? That is the low threshold that we have to meet,” he said. “I want to again emphasise we are assuming and proceeding from the premise that they are innocent until proven guilty.”“But we are satisfied that there is a case to be answered.”
In justifying the suspensions, Damaseb said, “the critical consideration in this respect is to ensure that the investigation is not compromised or interfered with. The committee concluded that the implicated officials must be temporarily excluded from active participation in football activities to remove the potential for interference in the investigation. This is in no way intended to imply guilt.”
The allegation against Warner, Damaseb said, was at a meeting at the Hyatt Regency hotel at Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, in May, where certain events took place.
“The allegation in essence was that at this meeting an amount of US$40,000 was offered to an association or persons present in order to serve as an inducement for their being able to vote for bin Hammam in FIFA elections,” he said.
Article 11 of FIFA’s code of ethics stipulates the offer of a bribe is an offence.
In relation to the allegation against Blatter, Damaseb noted the FIFA President was accused of failing to report the alleged intention to make payments to Caribbean associations.
Article 14 of the FIFA ethics code states: “Officials shall report any evidence of violations of conduct to FIFA.” Warner has claimed Blatter was aware of the facts in question.
“The committee was satisfied that even assuming — and there is a dispute about this — that he (Blatter) had been told, there was no duty on his part to report in terms of Article 14 because there was no breach or evidence of breach at that stage when an intended payment was reported to him,” Damaseb said. “A breach could have only occurred had the occurrence taken place which he knew about and did not report.”
Damaseb gave details of conflicting evidence taken from Warner and Blatter.
“Mr Sepp Blatter is, as you know, a candidate for the forthcoming elections. His statements to the committee are that, on a certain date, before May 10 and 11, and well before the arrangements for this meeting were finalised, he had been informed by Mr Jack Warner that a meeting of the kind would take place where Mr bin Hammam would present his candidacy and that he (Warner) intended to make certain payments to the associations.”
“Mr Jack Warner denies such a conversation ever took place. Mr Sepp Blatter says it did take place and that in unequivocal terms he told Mr Warner 1) that such a meeting should not take place and 2) such payments should not take place,” Damaseb said.
The committee revealed it considered the fact that Blatter was a candidate in the elections as part of its reasoning.
“If he (Blatter) had reported the matter it could have raised a real possibility that he would be accused of making unfair accusations against an opponent in order to destroy his chances. So that strengthens our view about the fact that we feel that no obligation to report arose at that time,” Damaseb said, as he cleared Blatter.
In the middle of yesterday’s press conference, FIFA’s secretary general J?r?me Valcke (France), produced an e-mail which he received which he said was evidence confirming allegations against officials implicated.
The members of the ethics committee which issued the suspensions were: Damaseb (Namibia); Juan Pedro Damiani (Uruguay); Sondre Kaafjord (Norway); Les Murray (Australia) and Robert Torres (Guam). Damaseb is the committee’s deputy chairman, but he chaired yesterday’s hearing after the chairman, Claudio Sulser, recused himself due to sharing Swiss nationality with Blatter.
Warner yesterday alleged that FIFA and the ethics committee demonstrated bias.
In his statement issued yesterday afternoon he said he was not notified of his suspension; had received no notice of the charges against him until he attended the hearing; had limited time to prepare a defence; and that at least one committee member (Damiani) did not have the benefit of his defence in their native language.
Quoting an e-mail, he suggested that Valcke had a bias against bin Hammam and had tried to influence Warner into not supporting bin Hammam.
“The complaints made in this matter are politically motivated against Mr bin Hammam and me and are designed, among other things, to cause serious prejudice and damage to both Mr bin Hammam and myself at one of the most critical times for FIFA,” he said.
“I attended the FIFA enquiry today at 12 noon (Switzerland time) pursuant to a request made of me by FIFA to answer allegations made by Chuck Blazer, General Secretary of CONCACAF.
“I have learned this evening via the media that I have been provisionally suspended by the FIFA Ethics Committee. This has come both as a shock and surprise to me.”
Warner continued, “At the conclusion of the inquiry I specifically requested that I be notified of any decision as I had learned via the media before attending the hearing that a decision would be handed down at 5pm. Despite leaving my contact details, up to this point, I still have not received any notification from FIFA.
“At the hearing I indicated that I submitted two written statements outlining my position. I expressed my disappointment with the way in which the inquiry was conducted as I was given less than 24 hours to submit a statement for consideration by the committee and, moreover, one of the five members of the committee is from Uruguay and did not have the value of a translated version of my or Mr bin Hammam’s submission. This lack of translation services brings into question the issue of due process.”
“In addition, FIFA did not have the courtesy to provide me with copies of the allegations before the hearing and it was only during the hearing were the allegations read to me,” he said.
Of Valcke’s actions at yesterday’s press conference, he said, “It is also shocking that at the close of an inquiry at around 5.47pm when the decision was already delivered new evidence in the form of a fax from the Puerto Rico Football Federation appears, making allegations which were treated as part of the evidence in this matter. This further demonstrates the way the inquiry was conducted and the prejudice against me.”
Bin Hammam, in a statement yesterday morning before the committee met, announced that he was pulling out of the race.
Bin Hammam, president of the Asia Football Confederation, said, “I pray that my withdrawal will not be tied to the investigation held by the FIFA ethics committee as I will appear before the ethics committee to clear my name from the baseless allegations that have been made against me.
“I promise those who stood by me that I will walk with my head held high and will continue to fight for the good of the game.
“I have a special thank you to my friend and colleague Jack Warner for his unlimited support. I am sorry to see that he has to suffer because of me, but I am promising him that I will be with him all the way through thick and thin,” bin Hammam said, hours before both were suspended.
Warner, on May 10 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, had told CFU officials that after the meeting they would be accused of accepting inducements.
“You will hear the president of Asia came here for your vote and that he gave a Benz for you, a Benz for you and a Benz for you,” Warner told the football officials.