Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith says the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) has ‘taken notice’ of allegations of financial misconduct supposedly committed by former Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams but remained tightlipped about an official probe.
John-Williams was the subject of an hour long feature by CNC3 investigative journalist Mark Bassant last Thursday called ‘TTFA’s Secret Panama Trail’, which claimed that, among other things, the football administrator diverted Fifa funding meant for the TTFA Home of Football into a secret Panamanian bank account.
“We have noted [the CNC3 feature] and it has our attention,” said Griffith, who worked as a security consultant with the TTFA during John-Williams’ tenure.
However, a police source claimed that the TTPS has already started ‘preliminary investigations’.
“Based on the matter being put in the public domain, we have already started checks to see if any crime was committed on Trinidad soil,” said the high-ranking lawman, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It could be money laundering, it could be financial impropriety or tax evasion. It could be a number of different things, or it could be nothing at all.”
John-Williams oversaw the Home of Football project which, on the surface, had a Fifa budget of US$2.75 million or TT$19.25 million.
However, what the TTFA Board did not know—as revealed by CNC3—is that ‘DJW’ was granted a second loan for US$2 million, on 18 January 2019, by Fifa Member Associations (Africa and Caribbean) chief Véron Mosengo-Omba, which also went into the project.
The latter figure was an advance on money available to the TTFA between 2019-22, which meant that John-Williams’ successor, William Wallace, found that a portion of his funding from the world governing body was already spent when he took office last November.
Despite having a TT$32 million war chest, the Home of Football did not have its own power source, commercial insurance or a proper kitchen when Fifa president Gianni Infantino flew in to cut the ribbon in a gala affair on 18 November 2019.
On 22 April 2020, Minister of National Security Stuart Young listed the ‘tweaks’ that were necessary before the Home of Football could be used to house Covid-19 patients.
“Corporate sponsorship came from Ansa McAl, Beacon provided the public liability insurance, I had a number of companies providing us with the fire extinguishers, Safe Tech, and some other companies and also the fire signs,” said Young. “[…] We had Flow provide the cable and the internet for each room, we had WASA on site within a matter of hours, doing all that needed to be done to get the water supply working.
“The Defence Force worked overnight to fix the sewerage system, CEPEP—Minister Kazim Hosein and his CEPEP gang—got there a matter of hours after the request, cleared the place, built fire trails. I am going to miss certain names [who also assisted].
“[Fifa-appointed normalisation committee chairman] Mr Robert Hadad personally donated light bulbs and other things to assist. […] We got washing machines, dryers, electricals…”
Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) president Keith Look Loy, who was a TTFA Board member for the final two years of John-Williams’ reign, got a High Court order in 2019 to access invoices for the project, and found a glaring lack of accountability.
“When I added up the quantum of what was stated in the contracts, the grand total was TT$3.189 million; but the grand total of the Fifa contribution for the Home of Football was US$2.75 million or TT$19.25 million,” said Look Loy. “So I don’t know how they plan to explain that shortfall; but the gap is over $16 million!
“[…] I was told by [general secretary] Camara David there are service providers who had workers [on the Home of Football project] on a daily paid basis and they had no contracts, and they were just paid in cash, which they then paid their workers with—so there was no record.”
At the time, Look Loy did not know that the Home of Football budget was TT$32.14 million, rather than TT$19.25 million. It means the unaccounted figure was closer to TT$29 million or US$4.3 million.
John-Williams, as Wired868 revealed then, got approval from Mosengo-Omba and Fifa Development Programmes manager Solomon Mudege to run the project himself.
“Given the [TTFA] president’s know-how in the construction business having over 39 years of experience,” John-Williams wrote to Mosengo-Omba, referring to himself in the third person, “the Association is in the fortunate position to have the necessary in-house expertise to collaborate with project manager and make educated decisions on the construction activity.
“[…] Can you advise if there is a requirement for TTFA to engage in public advertisement and public tendering? Or in the interest of expedition, we can go to the market in a selective tendering exercise?
“Secondly, apart from accelerating the project, we are of the view that procuring some [of] the high cost structural material by TTFA and providing same to the selected contractor may bring some cost savings through avoidance of contractor mark-ups on materials purchased…”
Both Fifa officials gave DJW the thumbs up.
“If the TTFA has the necessary expertise and is in agreement with the selected contractor,” replied Mosengo-Omba, “then the TTFA may purchase any materials that are required in the construction project.”
Fifa regulations allow for contracts below US$50,000 to be awarded to a single contractor or supplier without tender. So, John-Williams broke up the work into multiple packages.
The TTFA Board’s tender committee for the Home of Football was chaired by first vice-president Ewing Davis and included second vice-president Joanne Salazar and Southern FA president Richard Quan Chan. Wired868 was unable to reach Davis or Salazar on the CNC3 allegations. However, Quan Chan said he was in the dark.
“I have no information of any money laundering,” Quan Chan told Wired868. “I once heard a rumour that he was laundering money through a hardware and we had a small chat about it. I told him what I heard and he said that that does not make sense no-how.
“He never admitted to me anything like that.”
Quan Chan said he knew nothing about the diversion of local football money to accounts in Miami or Panama either.
“If I don’t know about what happening with the accounts in Trinidad, I would know about Panama accounts?” asked Quan Chan. “The first I heard of those other accounts was when Mark Bassant spoke about it.”
Quan Chan also served on John-Williams’ emergency committee alongside Davis, Selby Browne (VFFOTT), Anthony Moore (TFA) and Bandele Kamau (EFA). At the time, members accused the committee of being a rubber stamp for the president, which allowed him to circumvent the scrutiny of the board.
Still, John-Williams did not always inform the emergency committee of what he was up to either. By the time John-Williams brought a proposed apparel deal from Capelli Sport to the emergency committee, for instance, the Soca Warriors were already wearing gear from the obscure New York-based company.
“At the point of time, I didn’t fuss because it was really a short term thing—probably less than three months,” said Quan Chan, as he explained why he did not object to signing off on a deal after the fact.
The SFA president, who was a former HR manager at Petrotrin, said he simply never asked about John-Williams’ secret deal with either i95.5FM or its reporters Andre Baptiste and Tony Lee, which appeared to include airfare, hotel accommodation and, on occasion, broadcast fees.
“I don’t know what contract or arrangement they worked with, with i95.5,” he said. “[…] I know they travelled with the team as the ‘reporting arm of the TTFA’ but I never saw any contract or knew what the details were.”
Quan Chan conceded that board members might have some responsibility for what transpired during their term but said the constitution needed to be amended, so as to help ensure better governance.
He noted that current TTFA president William Wallace is also guilty of doing deals without board approval, like the contracts he entered into with controversial English salesman Peter Miller and Avec Sport, as well as the terms he offered to general secretary Ramesh Ramdhan and Soca Warriors head coach Terry Fenwick.
“That is one of the things that amazes me with the United TTFA,” said Quan Chan, “because some of the things they complained about, they ended up running with it. It felt as if John-Williams was still here.
“[…] Personally, I think we have to review the whole system. What [finance committee head Kendall] Tull started doing with the board [on corporate responsibility] was a pretty good thing.
“There should be oversight of everything to ensure that all is above board.”
Fifa-appointed normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad has repeatedly stated that he has no intention of digging for skeletons in the TTFA’s closet. And, as recent as 27 August 2020, Hadad allegedly told Minister of Sport Shamfa Cudjoe that John-Williams was not guilty of financial misconduct during his tenure.
Hadad has not yet responded publicly to the TTFA’s Secret Panama Trail documentary.
Normalisation committee vice-chair Judy Daniel did see Bassant’s programme, though. And she urged for further investigation… of Wallace!
“When will TT become mature and accept responsibility for their negligence in allowing the alleged high level of corruption?” asked Daniel, via what appeared to be her Facebook account. “[…] We did well as a small nation but will go no further unless we develop our own vision for football and move towards that, not just sitting back and depending on Fifa money.
“Shame on all the talkers now that suspension is looming because again a few have initiated action to keep power in their hands.
“I look forward to viewing an investigative report that shows the numerous high-priced contracts that Wallace issued in a mere four months of his reign, while the TTFA was bankrupt—all in keeping with the trend established by John-Williams.”