Wired868’s Lasana Liburd is far and away the best football reporter in Trinidad and Tobago, arguably in the West Indies. So if any proof were needed that the current protracted TTFA vs FIFA issue is not about football, it came on CNC3 last night.
I am sure Liburd and Wired provided relevant footballing information but the television documentary was the work of investigative reporter Mark Bassant.
Bassant has dared go where Liburd has not ventured precisely because the TV reporter is emphatically not in the football business. That’s more than can be said, the documentary makes clear, of former TTFA president David John-Williams.
For him, football is business, lucrative business.
Full disclosure: I am more than half-ready to deliver my verdict as juror in the David John-Williams case.
No lawyer—not even close—I am, however, very clear on the notion of presumption of innocence, both its legal underpinnings and its value in a court of law. I have found, though, that it has less value in the court of public opinion, which is where Bassant last night prosecuted the case.
I know to the last nuance the difference between an allegation and justiciable evidence, a charge and a conviction, a mere response, responsible or otherwise, and a real refutation. I have been, after all, in the business of teaching language all my adult life.
For more than ten of those adult years, I was a sports editor. That was back in the days when Jack Warner was first the TTFA’s Voice of One and then a big sawatee in Fifa. Ergo, I had plenty bullshit to cut through.
Bassant’s essential story is that DJW has been collecting TTFA money from Fifa, some of it in advance of its scheduled disbursement date. But he has been doing little of what the funds are specifically allocated to do: paying staff and creditors and servicing operational costs as well as building the Home of Football. Coaches, officials, players, contractors and service providers went continuously unpaid and authentic TTFA day-to-day needs were unmet. The House of Football is still unfinished.
And all the while, DJW played his credit cards very close to his chest.
“What do you prefer,” Bassant told us the then president asked rhetorically, “financial stability or wins on the field.”
“Neither came,” the investigator laconically commented.
However, as the organisation’s debts mounted, DJW was accumulating personal wealth—over a million US dollars—in a personal bank account in Panama, which it seems, was fraudulently set up using defunct, off-the-shelf companies.
As prosecutor, Bassant does an excellent job. The sheer wealth of information provided is quite impressive as is the attention to detail. An alert juror has no difficulty at all connecting the dots of dates, email and other addresses, flight information, customs documents, invoices, bank information and identification of FIFA connections, legitimate and shady. Not forgetting the concrete reality of the Home of Football.
Bassant tells the jury that: ‘Article 8D of Fifa’s Forward Development Programme regulations (…) states that associations may only use bonafide accounts to transact project business, (but) materials were paid for via RBC and Republic Bank accounts, when all three of TTFA’s accounts are at First Citizens’.
Fifa, he points out, deposited its funding into those First Citizens accounts.
He calls our attention to the suspicious purchase of two monomix machines. These machines were not on the customs form for the containers in which they were supposed to be but they ‘bizarrely appeared on the construction site of the Home of Football later on’, disappearing again in November 2019.
Contacted, the prosecutor tells us, a named official of ECOTEC, the supplier identified on the customs form, at first says that they do not sell that product. He would later change his tune. Too late!
Bassant cuts off John-Williams’ access to the knee-jerk defence of many an accused person: how can you be sure that it was me?
Dare he maintain that there are two people in the world, he asks, called David Apullnaris John-Williams? The chances are infinitesimal.
Bassant repeatedly opted for running footage of himself accompanying DJW on the golf course. I feel certain the ‘live’ footage moves the jury closer to making their minds up. The ex-president tries hard to make us believe he has only contempt for Bassant’s absurd investigation. But the sneer on his face, his embarrassed smile—if smile it can accurately be called—his equally embarrassed silences and his generally traitorous body language together convey an entirely different message.
But would mere commentary over more carefully selected images interspersed with well-placed sound-bites not have been more effective?
Maybe. Maybe not. Not in doubt is the verdict which has been reached in the court of public opinion. Already social media voices are calling for government intervention. One commentator has gone so far as to call for the resignation of the minister of sport, whom he sees as culpable since she publicly blamed the duly elected president, William Wallace.
My mind, though, remains only half open. I wait to hear the defence’s case but I’m convinced they have it all to do.
I see three real options: (1) A ‘plea deal’ (2) Turning State’s witness or (3) A win on a technicality.
In a corrupt country, of course, there is always a fourth. There is nothing Bassant can do about that.
I thought he did a splendid job on the sea bridge investigation in 2017. But there was no Covid-19 then, no closed borders.…
In November 1989, I was gutted when Warner off the field and Everald ‘Gally’ Cummings on its edge combined to cut the national World Cup qualification effort off at the knees.
Now, almost three decades later, even if we are not in a position to stop the recurrence, it looks to me as if we are certainly well placed to bring perpetrators to justice.
Thanks to Mark Bassant’s excellent, top-drawer, investigative work.