Justice Devindra Rampersad’s agenda was disturbed again today at the Port of Spain High Court as the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) once more disobeyed a court order and failed to take legal action against its former Special Advisor and Works Minister Jack Warner.
The TTFF’s decision again raised the possibility of contempt of court charges and the 13 aggrieved 2006 World Cup players, who are suing for unpaid bonuses, will now file an application for action against the local football body’s general secretary Richard Groden and ex-president Oliver Camps.
Shaka Hislop, who gave a heroic performance between the uprights at the Germany World Cup, was at the High Court today for the first time along with former teammates Brent Sancho, Atiba Charles and Anthony Wolfe. The other players involved in the proceedings are Kenwyne Jones, Stern John, Kelvin Jack, Aurtis Whitley, Cyd Gray, Cornell Glen, Avery John, Collin Samuel and Evans Wise.
The players, who are owed half of all 2006 World Cup revenue, were represented by Dave De Peiza, Phillip Lamont and George Hislop—father to the ex-World Cup goalkeeper—while British attorney Michael Townley remains involved in the matter from London.
Derek Ali spearheaded the TTFF’s legal team while interim president Lennox Watson, treasurer Rudi Thomas and Groden showed up on behalf of the sporting body.
On Ali’s request, the Judge asked reporters to leave the courtroom.
However, Wired868.com was informed that the case will resume on 3 May 2012. Justice Rampersad will then rule on arguments from either side on a contempt of court charge against Groden and Camps as well as on an application from the players for an oral examination of the TTFF and its staff.
Also, in what is being viewed as a coup by the players, the TTFF has agreed to allow a forensic audit of its accounts and both parties should agree soon on an auditor for the task.
Hislop was happy to be a part of the drama but described his maiden court appearance as bittersweet.
“On the one hand, I’m very disappointed in the way that the TTFF doesn’t bother to take any significant action (against Warner) and tries to offer excuses which seem neither true nor relevant,” Hislop told Wired868. “But I’m happy with the way the Judge is handling the case. Progress is slow but we are getting there.”
Warner’s fight to avoid turning up in court has become almost as central a theme to the bonus dispute as the accounting books that he guards.
The former FIFA Vice President negotiated the pact with the players on behalf of the TTFF and, according to the football body, banked the money too.
Yet, after six years and four separate legal matters in England and Trinidad and Tobago, Warner has still maintained his distance from the various court rooms while, in January, his lawyer, Om Lalla, successfully thwarted an attempt by the players to join him to the case.
And the players remain clueless as to exactly what they are owed.
On 14 February 2012, Justice Rampersad ran out of patience and gave the TTFF a deadline of 3 April 2012 to file suit against Warner, who he referred to as a “rogue agent,” for the accounting books.
But, not for the first time, the TTFF defied him.
Nothing if not creative, Ali’s excuse for not initiating formal proceedings against the United National Congress (UNC) chairman, according to a well-placed source, was that he lacked confidence in his own ability to handle such a legal battle.
The TTFF sent Warner a pre-action protocol letter on 17 February 2012 and, on 27 March 2012, Warner’s legal team, which is headed by Om Lalla, allegedly responded by hinting at starting a case of its own. Ali claimed that a suit against the Chaguanas West MP could leave the TTFF exposed to litigation for a sum estimated to be between $30 and $50 million.
Any reasonable counsel, according to Ali, would pause at such a risk.
The attorney allegedly told Justice Rampersad that he needed additional time to find a Senior Counsel for assistance. The TTFF already had William McCormick QC appear on its behalf but Ali said he preferred to avoid a possible conflict of interest since McCormick also represents Warner.
Justice Rampersad agreed to give Ali one month to prove why his client should not be held in contempt.
In the interim, the players hope to finally have an independent auditor pore over the TTFF’s accounting documents.
But, once again, the lucrative Local Organising Committee (LOC) 2006 spreadsheets allegedly kept by Warner remain unavailable.