The Reuters report said Warner, the National Security Minister, has not been charged with any wrongdoing. However, it said that since 2011, the FBI had been examining US$500,000 (TT$3.2 million) in payments made over a 20-year period by the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), of which Warner was once president, to an offshore company headed by US football official Chuck Blazer.
Blazer resigned as general secretary of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football Association (Concacaf) in December 2011 but remains an executive committee member until May. Warner was previously the head of CFU and Concacaf, as well as FIFA vice-president.
Responding to the Reuters story, “FBI has co-operating witness for soccer fraud probe: sources”, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar last evening said she would not rely on published reports in the media and would seek official confirmation.
In a statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister at 6.40 pm, Persad-Bissessar said, “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.”
The Reuters exclusive report by journalist Mark Hosenball was picked up by other media outlets in the US and locally. It cited unnamed US law enforcement sources as indicating that the probe into the transactions had “intensified” after a “key party” was cooperating as a witness.
The report identified Warner’s eldest son Daryan as the witness, but said sources declined to discuss Daryan’s role. It also said Daryan, who is in Miami, could not be reached for comment but noted a US official had disclosed Daryan was first interviewed by the FBI late last year after flying to the United States.
The report said a law-enforcement source declined to comment on who might be charged, or when this could happen. The report said the scope of the investigation was unclear.
It said the exact reasons for the US$500,000 payments were unclear but it cited statements made in 2011 by Blazer in which he said the money was repayment from Warner for a loan which was given in 2004. It also referred to Warner’s statement to local media that the payments were above board.
Law enforcement officials are quoted as saying that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was part of the investigation, looking at potential violations of US tax laws and anti-fraud laws including laws against wire and mail fraud. An unnamed official is quoted as describing the investigation as “shaping up like a major case.”
Blazer was contacted by the reporter about the investigation and said he was advised by his lawyer not to comment.
Spokesman for the National Security Minister, Francis Joseph was quoted in the report saying that neither Daryan or Warner would comment on the matter.
Warner met yesterday afternoon with Persad-Bissessar but attempts to reach him on his mobile phone were unsuccessful up to press time.
Questioned by reporters on March 12 regarding a report on a minister’s son, Persad-Bissessar said she had “no information, advice or knowledge of any minister’s son in any circumstances abroad.”
Newsday contacted Mark Hosenball by email to seek more details on his report. Hosenball replied, “Unfortunately all I can say is the story speaks for itself. Can’t go beyond this.”
Warner quit FIFA and Concacaf in June 2011 in the wake of bribery allegations stemming from a visit to Port-of-Spain by then FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam to lobby CFU members to vote for him against Sepp Blatter in FIFA presidential elections. It is alleged that Bin Hammam gave Warner packets containing US$40,000 to give to CFU members.
After his resignation, FIFA had declared Warner was presumed innocent, but banned Bin Hammam when FIFA ethics committee concluded its probe of the allegations. The Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned Bin Hammam’s ban saying the case had not been proven, although it found that Bin Hammam was “more likely than not” the source of the cash.
The Opposition had asked the police to investigate whether any TT Customs laws were breached over allegations that sums of money were brought into the country.
However, local police said they were unable to get evidence and the case was closed.
(FIFA reinstated its ban on Bin Hammam last December for a separate matter concerning “conflicts of interest” while he was president of the Asian Football Confederation.)