x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Warner's resignation has still left unfinished business

The decision to quit Fifa has left many questions unanswered and he is still required as a witness against Mohamed bin Hammam, the failed presidential candidate.

Jack Warner, right, speaks to the media on Monday in Trinidad and Tobago.
Jack Warner, right, speaks to the media on Monday in Trinidad and Tobago.

The support of Jack Warner, the Fifa vice-president, was once sought by Nelson Mandela and Britain's Prince William. Now his time at the heart of international football is over.

His 28-year stretch among the most powerful men in the sport ended on Monday amid an election bribery scandal - with his image tarnished but without having been found guilty of wrongdoing.

By choosing to resign from all football duties, the president of Concacaf and the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) ensured Fifa closed its ongoing investigation into his part in alleged bribing of CFU leaders in his native Trinidad and Tobago last month during the world governing body's presidential campaign.

That means that for Warner, "the presumption of innocence is maintained", Fifa said.

The Trinidad and Tobago government minister therefore walks away in full possession of his political career, for now. The island's police had expressed interest in any evidence Fifa unearthed.

In a statement, Warner said he "arrived at the decision to withdraw from Fifa in order to spare Fifa, Concacaf and, in particular, CFU ... from further acrimony and divisiveness".

However, Fifa warned that its inquiry stays closed only for as long as he stays in football exile.

Warner is still required as a witness while Fifa's team of former FBI agents gathers evidence against Mohamed bin Hammam, the failed presidential candidate.

Also facing a full ethics committee inquiry are two CFU staff members, who allegedly helped hand out envelopes stuffed with US$40,000 (Dh146,800) in $100 notes to Caribbean officials at the Qatari official's election pitch in Port of Spain on May 10.

That Warner effectively dodged his day in court will not surprise veteran Fifa-watchers. The 68-year-old has often been connected to alleged World Cup ticket scams and financial misdeeds, but always emerged relatively unscathed.

When Fifa found that Warner's family-owned firm overcharged fans for ticket and travel deals for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, he was merely censured.

Warner derived power from keeping control on the 35 votes of the Fifa members in the North and Central American, and Caribbean confederations. His insistence Concacaf united as a bloc - with more than 15 per cent of Fifa's electoral strength - ensured respect from Sepp Blatter, who often talked during his 13-year Fifa presidency of their close working relationship.

Blatter already was the secretary general in 1983 when Warner joined Fifa's executive committee - the 24-man body which chooses World Cup hosts and whose votes are coveted by heads of state and royalty alike. Warner's power-broking role increased on becoming Concacaf president in 1990.

Even Mandela was required to visit Trinidad seeking support for South Africa's World Cup bid.

Last year, Warner promised Prince William he would back England's 2018 campaign but then voted for Russia.

Blatter and bin Hammam's battle for Concacaf votes plunged Warner and Fifa into crisis. While wooing both candidates, Warner appeared to overplay his hand with Chuck Blazer, his American cohort at Concacaf for two decades and a Fifa executive committee colleague. Warner defied Blazer's advice and brought CFU members to meet bin Hammam in a May 10-11 conference in Port of Spain.

After delegates told Blazer that they were individually offered $40,000 cash for "development projects," the US representative on Fifa's executive committee gathered an evidence dossier which sparked an explosive chain of events.

Surinam official Louis Giskus joined a growing band of Caribbean whistle-blowers, revealing that gift-giving was part of Fifa culture and that Warner often dealt in cash.

That the latest corruption allegation facing Warner was levelled by a previously close confidante, and his CFU members, made it impossible to wish away.

* Associated Press