Whether or not they love soccer, the only thing Caribbean netizens are talking about today is the announcement that the United States Department of Justice is indicting nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives for racketeering, conspiracy, and corruption. Working with Washington, Swiss police carried out a special operation in the early morning hours to arrest the soccer officials and extradite them to the United States on federal corruption charges.
Jack Warner, the Trinidad-born former FIFA vice president turned politician, is one of the indicted defendants, along with Caymanian Jeffrey Webb, who took over FIFA's vice presidency from Warner and promised to investigate the many corruption allegations plaguing the world football governing body. (Warner's allegedly corrupt practices were widely explored in Scottish investigative journalist Andrew's Jennings‘ book Foul, which examined everything from voter rigging to ticket scandals.)
FIFA welcomes actions that can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football. We understand that today’s actions by the Swiss Federal Office of Justice on behalf of the US authorities and the Swiss Office of the Attorney General (initiated by FIFA through the submission of the file on the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup bidding process) relate to different matters.
Firstly, the arrest of six individuals this morning in Zurich concerns investigations by the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of the State of New York. The Swiss authorities, acting on behalf of their US counterparts, arrested the individuals for activities carried out in relation with CONCACAF and CONMEBOL business.
The second instance follows FIFA’s initiative of presenting the file on the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup™ bidding process to the Swiss Office of the Attorney General in November 2014.
FIFA maintains that it is “fully cooperating” with the investigation into the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup bidding process. The organisation also says it will proceed as planned with the FIFA presidential election, scheduled to take place this Friday, when current president Sepp Blatter will seek a fifth term. Blatter subsequently issued his own statement on the matter:
This is a difficult time for football, the fans and for FIFA as an organisation. […]
Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game. Following the events of today, the independent Ethics Committee – which is in the midst of its own proceedings regarding the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups – took swift action to provisionally ban those individuals named by the authorities from any football-related activities at the national and international level. These actions are on top of similar steps that FIFA has taken over the past year to exclude any members who violate our own Code of Ethics.
We will continue to work with the relevant authorities and we will work vigorously within FIFA in order to root out any misconduct, to regain your trust and ensure that football worldwide is free from wrongdoing.
Trinidadian journalist and blogger Vernon O'Reilly-Ramesar responded to Blatter's comments by tweeting:
— V. O'Reilly-Ramesar (@globewriter) May 27, 2015
The Trinidad-and-Tobago-based website Wired 868 broke the news in the regional blogosphere this morning, with an in-depth post that detailed the nature of the charges (wire fraud, bribery, and money laundering, with bribe money and kickbacks amounting to more than US $150 million) and the names of those indicted. The blog was particularly interested in the charges against Jack Warner:
The Department of Justice revealed that Darryl Warner, the son of defendant Jack Warner and a former FIFA development officer, waived indictment and pleaded guilty on 15 July 2013 to a two-count information charging him with wire fraud and the structuring of financial transactions.
Daryan Warner, the eldest son of Jack Warner, waived indictment and pleaded guilty on 25 October 2013 to a three-count information charging him with wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and the structuring of financial transactions.
Daryan forfeited over US$1.1 (TT$6.9) million around the time of his plea and agreed to pay a second forfeiture money judgment at the time of sentencing.
The Warner brothers each face as many as ten years in prison for altering financial transactions in a manner intended to evade currency-reporting requirements.
The charges from the US Department of Justice come as a welcome move for many Caribbean football enthusiasts, who have been despondent about the perception of such rampant corruption sullying a game that the region—and the world—adores. Quite humourously, Twitter's popular “God” account put it this way:
Only America could bring the force of impartial justice to FIFA, because it's the only country on earth that doesn't care about football.
— God (@TheTweetOfGod) May 27, 2015
Wired 868 explained that “two generations of soccer officials abused their positions of trust for personal gain, frequently through an alliance with unscrupulous sports marketing executives who shut out competitors and kept highly lucrative contracts for themselves through the systematic payment of bribes and kickbacks”, with many of the schemes originating in the Caribbean and Latin America.
While speculation was rife as to when a request for Jack Warner's extradition would be made, Warner was busy issuing statements maintaining that he was unaware of any charges. On a local radio show earlier today, he stated:
I have not been told or advised or questioned on any matter. I’ve heard what you have heard.
According to Wired 868, the radio station invited calls-ins after the interview, where listeners were asked whether they thought Warner would end up in a US prison. Unsurprisingly, “several people said ‘no'”. Despite numerous allegations of political corruption over the years, no public official has ever been convicted on corruption charges in Trinidad and Tobago.
Warner later issued a press release further emphasizing his innocence:
The people of Trinidad and Tobago will know that I quit FIFA and international football more than four years ago and that over the past several years I have recommitted my life to the work of improving the lot of every citizen of every creed and race in this nation. […]
I have fought fearlessly against all forms of injustice and corruption.
I have been afforded no due process and I have not even been questioned in this matter. I reiterate that I am innocent of any charges. I have walked away from the politics of world football to immerse myself in the improvement of lives in this country where I shall, God willing, die.
The actions of FIFA no longer concern me. I cannot help but note however that these cross- border coordinated actions come at a time when FIFA is assembled for elections to select a President who is universally disliked by the international community.
It has since been reported that the United States has made a formal extradition request for Jack Warner.
US Law enforcement authorities have made an official request to the Central Authority for extradition @CNC3TV
— Khamal Ethan Georges (@khamal) May 27, 2015
Warner's legal team, meanwhile, has taken this approach:
Jack Warner's attorneys have advised him against making further comment and to “stick to his press statement” at this time @CNC3TV
— Khamal Ethan Georges (@khamal) May 27, 2015
Regional netizens will undoubtedly continue to follow this story with interest, to learn of the fates of Jack Warner, Jeffrey Webb, and, of course, “the beautiful game“. Warner has since turned himself in to Trinidad and Tobago police.