Trinidad asks U.S. for information on FBI soccer fraud probe
PORT OF SPAIN/WASHINGTON
PORT OF SPAIN/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Under pressure from opposition politicians, the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago said she had sought information from U.S. authorities about an FBI investigation into alleged corruption in international soccer possibly involving the Caribbean country's national security minister, a former vice-president of FIFA.
An exclusive Reuters report last week quoted U.S. law enforcement sources as saying Daryan Warner, the son of National Security Minister Jack Warner, has become a "cooperating witness" in the FBI investigation.
The sources have not said who might be charged, if anybody, or when. While the exact scope of the investigation is not clear, among the matters under scrutiny are two previously reported allegations involving Jack Warner, the sources said.
Warner is the former head of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football (CONCACAF) and previously served as a vice president of FIFA, soccer's global governing body. He has not been charged with any crimes and has denied any wrongdoing.
While declining to comment on any aspect of the investigation, Warner, speaking to local media over the weekend, reiterated his long-standing denials of any wrongdoing and claimed he is being targeted by political opponents.
"I do not think you know of any other politician who for the last three years has been maligned and who has been crucified as I have been," said Warner, who accused his critics of seeking to weaken Trinidad and Tobago's three-year-old coalition government.
"The one objective in mind (is) to get rid of Jack Warner because there are those who believe that if you get rid of Jack Warner then you get rid of a major chunk or chink in the government's armor," Warner, who is head of one of Trinidad's four ruling political parties, said in comments shown on local television.
The investigation, which also involves the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. tax agency, is looking into potential violations of American tax laws and anti-fraud statutes, including laws prohibiting wire fraud and mail fraud, the law enforcement sources said.
After the publication of the Reuters story about the investigation, opposition politicians in Trinidad and Tobago called for Warner, who as national security minister is in charge of Trinidad's military and police forces, either to resign or for Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to dismiss him.
David Abdulah, the head of the Movement for Social Justice party, a former coalition partner of the government, urged the prime minister to remove Warner from office.
"If she does not, she will pay the political price for keeping him in the government," Abdulah said, describing the news reports on Warner as "very embarrassing" for the country.
Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley also called on Warner to address the allegations.
Neither Daryan Warner nor a Trinidadian lawyer representing the Warner family have responded to requests for comment.
U.S. officials did not immediately comment on the Trinidadian government's statements that it is seeking information about the FBI investigation.
Persad-Bissessar said she has instructed Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to use diplomatic channels to obtain details about the investigation.
"It would be premature if not prejudicial for me to act without any official clarification or confirmation from the U.S. authorities on this controversial and sensitive matter," said Persad-Bissessar.
The exact scope of the FBI investigation is not clear, U.S. law enforcement sources have said.
However, the FBI has since 2011 been examining more than $500,000 in payments made by the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) over the past 20 years to an offshore company headed by U.S. soccer official Chuck Blazer. That was a period when Jack Warner was also head of the CFU, a position he held from the early 1980s until 2011.
The precise reasons for many of those payments is unclear. In 2011, Blazer said that the payments were meant to be repayments to him by Warner of "a significant amount of money" which Blazer said he loaned to Warner in 2004. Warner told the media in Trinidad that the payments were above board.
Blazer declined comment when contacted last week about the Reuters story.
Persad-Bissessar has repeatedly stood by Warner since he quit his FIFA and CONCACAF positions in June 2011 in the wake of allegations of bribery in a report by a lawyer commissioned by Blazer, a member of FIFA's executive committee and former general secretary of CONCACAF.
The report alleged that Warner collaborated with another FIFA vice president at the time, Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar, to bribe Caribbean soccer officials so that they would back a bid by Bin Hammam to become FIFA's president. Bin Hammam and Warner both have repeatedly denied the allegations.
Bin Hammam's U.S. lawyer, Eugene Gulland, said last week that while he had heard that U.S. authorities were investigating CONCACAF issues, Bin Hammam had not been contacted about the probe.
When Warner resigned his FIFA position, the organization declared that "the presumption of innocence is maintained" in his case.
FIFA said last week the Swiss-based organization was "unaware" of any FBI investigation related to the Americas and Caribbean.