…Ex-FIFA VP as slippery as ever
Former FIFA Vice President and Trinidad and Tobago Works Minister, Jack Warner, had a potentially disastrous time of things last week. It was hard to tell from a cursory glance at the major newspapers, though.
On Thursday morning, High Court Judge Devindra Rampersad fumed at the fact that, five years after the 2006 World Cup, Warner has still not produced a credible accounting statement to show the whereabouts of over $180 million. The money, half of which was promised to the players, should have been banked at the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) but was diverted to the former administrator’s private company instead.
A few snippets of Rampersad’s judgment, which was carried exclusively by Wired868, eventually appeared buried in the Trinidad Express‘ sport pages on Saturday. In Friday’s news section, though, Express credited Warner with his stated intention to pay for the funeral of two fishermen.
Warner, the article noted, did not inform the media of his visit to the families of the deceased on Thursday. And yet, within hours of his stopover, information of Warner’s generosity had indeed reached the press—unlike news on the possible misappropriation of millions.
The international press was no less pliable.
Warner’s repeated claims, on Friday, that FIFA President Sepp Blatter gave him with World Cup television rights for $1 in exchange for his political support again hit the news wires. The Trinidadian offered no proof to the media apart from his claim to have contracts and emails in his possession.
His assertion that the revenue from his resale of those television rights were pumped into the regional game went unchallenged although the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) was so cash-starved it could not afford to hold an Extraordinary General Meeting last November.
Warner is often dismissed as a joke in the international press; yet it is debatable as to who is laughing hardest.
There is a scene in the comedy-mystery movie, The Guard, when FBI agent Wendell Everett (played by actor Don Cheadle) looked across at the unorthodox Irish Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleason) with a mixture of disgust and incomprehension and exclaimed: “You are either the dumbest person I have ever met; or the smartest!”
Who knows what the epitaph on Warner’s political tombstone would read one day.
For all his obvious flaws, it would be petty not to credit him with having an astute weather vane for public sentiment.
Last May, as FIFA tightened the noose over the CFU bribery scandal that led to the expulsion of former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Mohamed Bin Hammam, Warner claimed the charges were politically motivated. He displayed an email from FIFA General Secretary Jérôme Valcke that accused Bin Hammam of trying to buy the FIFA Presidential election like “they (Qatar) bought the World Cup.”
The British Guardian Newspaper described the email as “incendiary” and there was momentary choas. But the email was deemed insufficient to overturn Qatar’s successful 2022 World Cup bid and certainly did nothing to prove Warner’s innocence in the face of bribery charges supported by signed affidavits and photographic and video evidence.
Eight months later, Warner has still not produced a single document to support his tirades. Even his revelation regarding his ridiculously discounted bill for the Caribbean’s World Cup television rights was a recycled story.
In 2002, FIFA General Secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen listed Warner’s $1 television deal among a 23-page dossier of questionable internal practices. The international press failed to mention this dossier, which might have provided context to its recent reports.
Warner is racking up the headlines of late—even by his own standards.
Justice Rampersad gave Warner a deadline of February 10 to provide an account of “all income, donations, gifts, grants or benefits whatsoever and all expenditure” arising from the Germany 2006 World Cup.
Last November, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar ordered an audit of the PURE (Programme for Upgrading Roads Efficiency) Unit that falls under Warner’s purview after allegations of irregularities. That audit was completed last week but not yet made public.
In the interim, Warner has appeared with impressive regularity at every flooded roadway or broken bridge in the country. And the local media, which is often disinclined to cover stories at any significant distance from Port of Spain, has followed him to far-flung areas like Toco and Icacos.
On every trip, Warner repeated his mantra that he is desperate to help the common man but is prevented from doing so by the Prime Minister’s temporary closure of PURE.
His message to FIFA is not only a potshot at Blatter, then, but also a signal of strength to his critics inside the ruling People’s Partnership coalition party. No local politician, not even the media-friendly Persad-Bissessar, comes close to Warner’s proficiency in press relations.
Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, once remarked that: “the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly—it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”
Warner, a former history teacher, has probably heard of him and arguably uses a similar public relation scheme. For the past seven months, he repeatedly accused Blatter and Valcke of political treachery and deceit while painting himself as an employee bound by a flawed doctrine whose only interest was to serve the Caribbean rather than his own bank book.
The “Book of Jack” is not yet written. And time will tell whether Warner is remembered as a living parody who marched unawares to his own funeral or a cunning politician who laughed in the face of disaster and survived to tell the tale.