By Stanford Conway

BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – FOLLOWING Jack Warner’s resignation as CONCACAF President and the life ban of President of the Asian Football Confederation Mohamed bin Hammam from all football-related activities, FIFA had given Caribbean football associations 48 hours to explain their part in the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) conference held at the Hyatt Hotel in Trinidad on May 9 and 10, 2011.

FIFA, the football’s world governing body, is investigating the alleged offering of some US$1M in cash bribes to 25 Caribbean football officials by Warner and bin Hammam during the CFU conference.

Forty-eight hours to information

In a BBC Sport article dated Tuesday, July 26, 2011, it was reported that FIFA, in a statement, said, “Fifa has sent a letter on 25 July to all CFU associations, asking the associations, their presidents, and any of their members with knowledge of anything that transpired during the meetings held on 10 and 11 May in Trinidad and Tobago, to provide and report all relevant information in their possession within 48 hours.

“Truthful and complete reporting will be considered in mitigation by the ethics committee when deciding on potential sanctions. Any person who has relevant information but does not come forward during this 48-hour period will be subject to the full range of sanctions.
“Following this 48-hour period, the ethics committee will be asked to open the necessary ethics proceedings.”

The article stated that Cuba was the only one of the 25 CFU associations which did not attend the meeting on 10 and 11 May, where Bin Hammam was speaking about his campaign to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA’s President.

It also stated that officials from nine associations told investigators last month that they were given or offered cash gifts, while the other 15 associations denied receiving any cash gifts or refused to meet the investigators.

BBC reported that associations from Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and Montserrat did not respond to invitations to meet the investigators, while officials from Barbados, Guyana, British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago and United States Virgin Islands met with the investigators but they denied receiving cash gifts.

SKNFA not involved in bribery

SKNVibes contacted the President of the St. Kitts-Nevis Football Association (SKNFA), Anthony Johnson, who said that his organisation has cooperated with FIFA’s Ethics Committee and would continue to do so.

“We have in the past cooperated with the FIFA Ethics Committee in their investigation and we will remain committed to doing so in the future. That really is the gist of our position and I don’t really wish to add anything further to that,” Johnson said.

When the bribery scandal broke in May, like many other CFU members, the SKNFA distanced itself from it and subsequently issued a press release on June 6 acknowledging FIFA’s investigation but noted none of its officials was named in the scandal.

“The investigation is centered around four (4) individuals none of whom are SKNFA officials. The SKNFA has not been advised of any investigation against the organisation or any of its officials in relation to the said allegations.

“Further, the SKNFA wishes to place on record that our organisation was not at any time offered nor did we receive any bribe or other such inducement in connection with the FIFA Presidential Elections.

“However, we do appreciate that as a member of CFU, the SKNFA will be indirectly impacted by the investigation, but at the same time it does not involve or affect us directly,” the release read.

Mohamed bin Hammam to contest life ban

The 62-year-old bin Hammam was found guilty of trying to buy votes from CFU members in a bid to be FIFA’s President and was banned for life on Saturday (July 23). And on the following day, he reportedly told BBC: “Let me make this clear...I have never paid money for votes in all my life.”
He admitted to paying travel and accommodation expenses for the attendees, as well as costs for the Trinidad conference, but denied the bribery allegations.

He denied doing anything wrong and had pledged to appeal the ban by taking the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

In addition to bin Hammam, FIFA has placed a one-year ban on CFU staff members – Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester – for their part in the distribution of cash payments to the officials who attended the Trinidad conference.

Who will face sanctions?

The football's governing body however stated that “any person who has information” but does not comply with its corruption investigation will face sanctions.

And it is believed in some quarters that some officials of the CFU could face the same or lesser ban given to bin Hammam should they not comply with FIFA’s directive.

The big question now being asked is: “To what degree would Caribbean football be affected should one or more associations or their officials face sanctions?”

Time for Burrell and Klass to step up

Speaking with James Buchanan, past General-Secretary of SKNFA, he told SKNVibes that the waves of the scandal have not yet diminished and this is partly due to the failure of some CFU members not coming clean from the onset.

He noted that the outcome would have significant implications for the region’s associations.
Asked for his recommendations, Buchanan said, “It is time for members to let go of Jack Warner’s coattail, for he has served his purpose but is now finished as far as football in FIFA.”

He claimed that CONCACAF’s Deputy President Lisle Austin’s mistake was to attempt to protect Jack Warner and not the region as a whole, adding that “his move against Chuck Blazer was premature and tactically bad. He could have achieved his objective through an extraordinary congress of CONCACAF. He may not get that opportunity again”.

Buchanan asserted that the remaining members of the CFU executive must understand, as of now, that they have a responsibility to bring healing and unity to the region.

“They cannot ostracise the CFU members who reported receiving cash. It is time for Captain Burrell and Colin Klass to step up and step off on their own and bring new direction to the CFU. The problem is that they will first have to come clean on the CFU scandal and avoid any FIFA sanctions,” he added.

He advised that the remaining CFU members who have not been truthful about the scandal must understand that Warner is finished and there is no need to protect him.

“Any CFU member who comes out of this matter tainted will have a difficult time becoming head of CONCACAF. CFU members control 25 of 35 votes at CONCACAF and, if they play their cards well and operate above board, the work started by Jack Warner can continue with renewed credibility,” the past General Secretary posited.

CCU officials given gifts not bribes

Bin Hammam had vehemently denied giving money as bribe for votes, and Warner had told Bloomberg on June 20, 2011 that “it’s not unusual for such things to happen and gifts have been around throughout the history of Fifa. What’s happening now for me is hypocrisy”.

BBC Sport however claims to have a document in its possession which alleges that Warner had given CFU General-Secretary Angenie Kanhai a locked case containing envelopes with cash for distribution to members of the CFU who had attended the Trinidad conference.

The media house stated that the allegation is contained in a two-page document written by Kanhai on a CFU-headed paper dated 15 July 2011 and was prepared for FIFA General-Secretary Jerome Valcke, but was to be sent via the CFU’s Executive Committee.

BBC further stated that the document was submitted to the Ethics Committee and that Kanhai had since travelled to Zurich to give evidence.

Kanhai, the media house noted, signed a series of bullet points that gave a detailed account of what transpired at the Trinidad conference.

The document states: “I was directed to coordinate the special meeting of the CFU by Mr. Jack Warner, who was at that time, president of the CFU. Mr Warner initially requested the meeting be held by April 18, 2011, but the May date was ultimately agreed.

“The purpose of the special meeting was to provide Mr. Bin Hammam with the opportunity to address the delegates from the CFU.

“On May 10, 2011, Mr. Warner advised me that he had gifts, which were to be distributed to the delegates. Mr. Warner did not tell me what the gifts were, but advised that they were to be distributed from the Hotel (sic) that afternoon. After consulting with my staff, Jason Sylvester and Debbie Minguell, I suggested to Mr Warner that the gifts be distributed between 3PM and 5PM that day.

“During the morning session on May 10, Mr Warner made an announcement to the attendees about picking up the abovementioned (sic) gift. I was told that I should come to his office to collect the gifts that were to be distributed.

“I arrived at Mr. Warner’s office at approximately 2.30PM on May 10 and collected a locked bag with the key in the front pocket.

“The bag contained 26 envelopes, these envelopes were unmarked and were folded and sealed. I did not see any envelopes opened and left Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester to distribute the envelopes.

“The next day I met Debbie and Jason for breakfast at the hotel and they advised me that the envelopes had contained cash.

“In speaking with the representative from The Bahamas I was advised that he had returned the envelope. The representative from the Turks and Caicos returned the envelope to Ms. Minguell on the morning of May 11 2011.”

Power struggle in CONCACAF

CONCACAF is the continental governing body for football associations in North America, Central America and the Caribbean, as well as for Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana in South America.

The football body was founded on September 18, 1961 in Mexico City, Mexico and its primary administrative functions are to organise competitions for national teams and clubs as well as to conduct World Cup qualifying tournaments.

Warner was made President of CONCACAF in 1990, and since then there has been significant improvement in the region’s level of play, competitiveness and financial disposition as well as world recognition.

However, despite the progress made during his tenure, the alleged bribery scandal has forced him to tender his resignation, thus removing himself from all participation in football.

As a result of his resignation, Lisle Austin was named acting President of CONCACAF, but his appointment was short-lived and he was replaced by the organisation’s Vice-President Alfredo Hawit.

His replacement resulted from a letter he sent to CONCACAF General-Secretary Chuck Blazer saying that the American was “terminated as General-Secretary with immediate effect.”

Blazer is said to be the person who had levelled the bribery accusations against Warner and bin Hammam, and Austin described his actions as “inexcusable and a gross misconduct of duty and judgment”, adding that the American was no longer fit to hold the office.

Consequently, CONCACAF’s Executive Committee issued a statement noting that Austin did not have the authority to fire Blazer and that the decision to do so was unauthorised.

It is said in some quarters that football in the Caribbean region would suffer if the Americans are in control of CONCACAF.

On the condition of anonymity, one football pundit said, “In spite of Jack Warner’s alleged shortcomings, we have seen a remarkable transformation of football in the Caribbean under his leadership. However, we can’t sacrifice honesty and integrity for success.

“But I’m very much afraid for the continued progress of the region’s football and footballers should CONCACAF be controlled and headed by Chuck Blazer. There however still seems to be some hope as the region has the majority votes in the 35 CONCACAF membership.

Where is the money?

If it were a fact that the money offered by bin Hammam to the CFU officials was gifts for the enhancement of their respective organisations and not as bribes, then why did the officials from The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos return theirs?

If it were a fact that the envelopes containing money were given to all officials present at the Trinidad conference, why did 15 of them denied receiving any? And if they had indeed accepted cash gifts for their associations’ development, was it recorded in their accounts ledgers? What was it used for? Where is the tangible evidence of its disbursement and why was it not publicised?

It there were no infringements to FIFA’s rules and regulations concerning the illegal transfer of cash, why then were Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester placed on a one-year ban by the Ethics Committee?

This incident seemingly reeks of corruption and dishonesty, and for the Caribbean region to regain its status in the football world, those who accepted the gifts should come clean or resign.