It was May 11, 2011, and “Trinidad Jack,” as reporters call him, was holding court.
From his perch atop a raised table at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, Jack Warner tried to quell the revolt within the ranks of the Caribbean Football Union. The day before, Warner had doled out brown paper envelopes with $40,000 in them to each of the union’s 25 visiting members. The money, he now explained, came from Mohamed bin Hammam, a Qatari businessman running against Sepp Blatter for FIFA’s presidency.
Someone in the crowd, however, had called headquarters to complain. The media would be asking questions. So Warner wanted to set things straight: The cash wasn’t a bribe, he said, but a “gift” from Hammam. The Qatari had “fresh ideas.” The Caribbean could hand him the presidency, as long as it voted as a bloc.
“Any country that doesn’t want the gift has the right to give it back to him,” Warner said of the payments. “I know there are some people here who believe they are more pious than thou. If you are pious, go to a church, friends, but the fact is our business is our business.”
Two weeks later, news broke about the Caribbean cash. “Fifa in crisis after claims against Jack Warner and Mohamed bin Hammam,” reported the Guardian. The Telegraph obtained video of Warner’s speech. Bin Hammam pulled out of the election and was banned from FIFA for life. Warner abruptly retired from his positions as FIFA’s vice president and head of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
In hindsight, the headlines almost seem quaint. If that was a crisis, then this week’s massive crackdown on FIFA is the soccer apocalypse. On Wednesday morning, U.S. prosecutors unsealed a 47-count indictment accusing Warner and other world soccer figures of a $150 million bribery and racketeering scheme. Swiss officials pulled seven FIFA officials out of their swanky Zurich hotel and arrested them. The indictment also mentions 75 unnamed “co-conspirators,” raising the possibility that others remain under investigation.
“The beautiful game was hijacked,” FBI Director James B. Comey said.
Warner and the alleged secret payments in Port-of-Spain both feature prominently in the indictment. In many ways, the man is the most visible face in the ongoing FIFA scandal. His arrest on Wednesday is a stunning twist to the Trinidadian’s already remarkable story. His rise from a classroom to sporting power and his spectacular fall from football grace say much about how the world’s most popular game is run, and what ails it.
Before he was one of the most powerful men in sports, Jack Warner was a schoolteacher from a small city in a tiny country. “Warner was born, in his own words, ‘a poor black boy’ in Rio Claro in the south of the island,” according to an excerpt from Andrew Jennings’s 2006 book “Foul!: The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals.”
“Jack trained as a teacher, agitated briefly in Trinidad’s Black Power movement, and then spotted a bigger opportunity: football,” Jennings wrote in a book excerpt in the Daily Mail. “Warner saw that the Caribbean Football Union offered a stepping stone to greater power. In 1983, he ran successfully for the presidency and that gave him an automatic seat on FIFA’s executive. In a biography he commissioned for himself in 1998, this was described as ‘a step that created major revenue earning opportunities.'”
In 1989, Warner was involved in his first big soccer controversy. Trinidad and Tobago was one point away from qualifying for the 1990 World Cup. As head of the country’s soccer federation, Warner “printed thousands of extra tickets and ignored rules forbidding alcohol sales at the stadium,” according to Jennings. The stadium was dangerously overcrowded. When Trinidad lost, an angry public demanded answers. Warner later admitted to newspapers that he sold an extra 5,000 tickets.
But Warner was saved by Chuck Blazer, vice president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, who recruited the Trinidadian to run for president of CONCACAF, according to Jennings and the indictment. It was a position that offered the schoolteacher and part-time soccer administrator tremendous power, and not only over its members. With 35 members across North America, Central America and the Caribbean, CONCACAF is a formidable force in FIFA.
Warner quit his position at Port-of-Spain’s Polytechnic Institute and devoted himself to transforming Trinidad and CONCACAF. He established an official office on the tiny island and built a $16 million state-of-the-art soccer facility — on land that he owned. (When CONCACAF later filed litigation against him over the land, Warner called it a “political vendetta” against him.)
“As Blazer and Jack Warner steadily grew CONCACAF, the number of CONCACAF’s staff grew as well,” according to a 2013 internal report. “Eventually, CONCACAF’s New York office occupied an entire floor in the Trump Tower, which included a full broadcast studio.”
Under Warner and Blazer, the business of soccer boomed in both the United States and the Caribbean. “Blazer and Warner also made money for CONCACAF, transforming it from a rickety assemblage of soccer groups with an annual budget of $140,000 to a $40 million cash cow on sponsorship, media and vendor contracts that Blazer negotiated,” according to the New York Daily News.
But success and allegations of scandal seemed to go hand-in-hand for Warner. In 2004, he helped arrange a friendly match between Scotland and Trinidad and Tobago. After the game, Warner requested that the $75,000 proceeds check be made out to his personal account, the head of the Scottish Football Association claimed, according to the New York Times.
“In 2006, Warner was implicated in a public scandal involving the reselling of large blocks of tickets to the 2006 World Cup at inflated prices,” according to the 2013 CONCACAF report. “The tickets were made available to certain football officials by the FIFA ticket office with the understanding that, if they were resold, it would not be for more than face value. Investigations resulted in FIFA fining Warner’s son $1 million for reselling the tickets, which were acquired from FIFA under Warner’s name, through a travel agency owned by Warner and his family.” He was also accused of stiffing the Trinidadian soccer team out of its prize money. Warner denied all wrongdoing.
Warner emerged unscathed. Four years later, however, he was caught up in even uglier accusations. British and Trinidadian soccer officials accused him of misusing funds donated to help Haitian earthquake victims watch the World Cup. Again Warner proclaimed innocence and suggested the allegations were part of a conspiracy against him.
Then came the scandal that took him down and could possibly drag FIFA down with him. At the May 2011 conference at the Hyatt Regency in Port-of-Spain, Warner started his speech by making sure that there were no journalists present. “Is the media here?” he asked, before openly discussing the packets of Qatari cash he had doled out hours earlier to Caribbean soccer federations.
“So I am making the point here, folks, that it was given to you because [bin Hammam] could not bring the silver tray and a silver, some silver trinkets and so on, and some thing with Qatari sand,” he said. “So I said put a value on it and give the countries [cash], and the gift you get is for you to determine how best you want to use it for development for football in your country.”
Warner went on to praise bin Hammam and slam Sepp Blatter. The Caribbean had been slighted under the Swiss FIFA president, so why not try someone else? “Once bin Hammam loses, it means that is the end of any opponent” to Blatter, Warner warned. With the FIFA election only a few weeks away, he encouraged the Caribbean to vote as a bloc.
“If ever the power of FIFA is held in our hands, that time is now,” Warner said, according to the recorded speech. “And believe you me, it is not in the hands of CONCACAF, you know; it is the hands of the [Caribbean Football Union]. Mr. bin Hammam is dismissive of the seven members in Europe; he knows that he can’t get them. He knows that. He knows that he can’t get one or two in the Caribbean. But he also knows that if we decide how we vote as a group, as a bloc, he knows that will decide who wins. Right now he has about 90 votes; right now Sepp Blatter has 85 votes, count them. That is 180. FIFA has 209 members. Look and see what is happening. I tell you how important we are. And he cannot fritter that away. Never have we been so important as we are now. Never have we been so important as we are now, and we can’t just throw it away.”
When the story hit newspapers two weeks later, however, Warner’s plans fell apart. Bin Hammam pulled out, Blatter won reelection, and Warner resigned in disgrace — although not without his FIFA pension.
It appears as if that incident played a role in the sweeping indictment on Wednesday. The 2011 scandal started a bitter and public feud between not only Warner and Blatter, but also between Warner and his former close friend Chuck Blazer. When Caribbean countries complained about the cash bribes, “Blazer sent Warner an email warning him in code that ‘MBH’s ATMs (Mohammed bin Hammam’s money) were doing some damage and we need to talk … people are asking questions and I don’t know how to respond,'” according to the Daily News. “But Warner ignored Blazer’s plea for some kind of damage control and Blazer, seeing no other way to save himself, called FIFA in Zurich to report an apparent breach of ethics.”
But Blazer had his own problems, including failing to pay U.S. income taxes for over a decade. “Just months after Blazer blew the whistle on his friend, he was on a sidewalk in Midtown when his mobility scooter was blocked by a pair of agents from the IRS and FBI,” the Daily News reported. “The agents told him they could take him away in handcuffs, or he could cooperate. It took Blazer less than an hour to decide to cooperate.”
Blazer is believed to be “Co-conspirator #1” in Wednesday’s indictment. He pleaded guilty to 10 counts including racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering in 2013, a plea that was sealed until this week, according to U.S. authorities. That same year, Warner’s own sons, Daryll and Daryan, also pleaded guilty to fraud. There was hardly any news of their arrests, either in the United States or Trinidad. But it was around that time that Warner quit the Trinidadian Parliament, where he had been a member since 2007.
Even as his own sons were secretly pleading guilty, however, Warner remained publicly unperturbed. Instead of disappearing, he founded the Independent Liberal Party. Promising “performance,” he won back his seat in Parliament. Outwardly, at least, it seemed as if “Trinidad Jack” would escape punishment.
But on Wednesday, officials in Switzerland and the United States sprang their trap, and the former soccer boss’s hours were numbered. He was indicted. He turned himself in to authorities but not before posting a defiant message proclaiming his innocence to his personal Web site, Warner TV. He posted $395,000 bond and will be released Thursday, according to the Guardian and local media.
Warner faces a series of felony charges, starting with the alleged secret payments in Port-of-Spain. According to the indictment, Warner also received millions in bribes for his efforts to secure World Cups for South Africa and Qatar.
In the early 2000s, Warner sent a family member “to fly to Paris, France and accept a briefcase containing bundles of U.S. currency in $10,000 stacks in a hotel room from… a high-ranking South African bid committee official. Hours after arriving in Paris, [the family member] boarded a return flight and carried the briefcase back to Trinidad and Tobago, where [the family member] provided it to Warner,” according to the indictment. Warner also later agreed to vote for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup in exchange for $10 million to “support the African diaspora,” the indictment says. When South Africa couldn’t pay the alleged bribe, FIFA did: “A high-ranking FIFA official caused payments of $616,000, $1,600,000, and $7,784,000 – totaling $10 million – to be wired from a FIFA account in Switzerland to a Bank of America correspondent account in New York, New York, for credit to accounts held in the names of CFU and CONCACAF, but controlled by the defendant Jack Warner.”
The indictment also accuses Warner of receiving huge wire transfers from Qatar shortly after supporting bin Hammam’s presidential campaign and the country’s bid for the 2022 World Cup: “On or about July 14, 2011, after the scheme had been uncovered and the defendant Jack Warner resigned from his soccer-related positions, Co-Conspirator #7 caused $1,211,980 to be wired from an account that he controlled at Doha Bank in Qatar, to a correspondent account at Citibank, for credit to an account held in Warner’s name at Intercommercial Bank in Trinidad and Tobago.”
Warner is now one of the faces of the alleged $150 million FIFA scandal, while his nemesis, Blatter, remains in charge of the organization.
Back in his 2011 speech, the Trinidadian claimed that the FIFA president knew about the “gifts.”
“What I am telling you here even Mr. Blatter is aware of,” Warner told the crowd at the Hyatt. “It’s no secret. I told Blatter also what he gets as well.”
Asked specifically about the “gifts,” Blatter denied any wrongdoing, according to the BBC.