IT'S A STORY of treachery, naïveté, bribery, cover-up and all those words you associate with Sepp Blatter’s bunch of mobsters when they open the door to suckers queuing to be fleeced.
Over two decades, Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner stole nearly $90 million from football in the Caribbean, central and north America. FIFA officials ruled off limits investigations into what they stole in World Cup ticket rackets and crooked expenses claims from FIFA’s treasury. Open that box and who among FIFA’s Executive Committee members would be left standing?
But the theft from Australia is in a class of its own; it’s not just another everyday story of FIFA larceny. If the auditors half a world away hadn’t stumbled over this half million dollar heist, it would have remained a dirty secret known only to Jack Warner, his sleazy middleman, a few redfaced Aussies and their billionaire boss.
The plot was laid back in 2010 when the muppets collective at the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) were harangued by their paid consultant. "You want the World Cup?" he barked at them in his mittel-European accent. "You gotta give Jack Warner what he wants."
Imagine the scene in the FFA office, overlooking Sydney harbour. One brave voice had squawked: "But Warner is a kleptomaniac . . . aarrgh." And then there was one less on the team and the rest knew better than to ever reveal they were undertaking a potentially illegal money transfer from poor kids to a rich official.
In August that year, three months before the FIFA vote, the Aussie Ship of Football Fools docked in Trinidad. Waiting with his empty sack was Warner. He had a well-rehearsed line of patter. You are rich, we are bare-foot; you have an international development budget, please help us. Let’s not demean ourselves discussing my vote for who is to host the World Cup, it’s about showing me you are the warm and generous people you say you are.
Warner tried that caper earlier in the year on England’s bid leader Lord David Triesman. When Jack nominated his personal account to receive $2.5 million for vague good works, Lord Dave looked at his watch and departed. England didn’t get Warner’s vote.
The Cap’n of the Aussie Ship of Footie Fools and his crew, softened up no doubt by rum punches and lobster lunches, were taken to a complex of buildings and sports facilities at Macoya, on the road between Port of Spain and the airport.
At the front is a huge clue to the rogering the Fools were about to have inflicted on them — a bust of the man the complex is named after, the greediest plunderer the world game has ever known, Brazil’s thief of thieves, former FIFA president Joao Havelange.
To one side of the hotel, swim pool, convention centre of many halls and prosperous multi-story health club full of the island’s middle classes polishing their physiques, was the well-endowed Marvin Lee football stadium, the home of Jack’s own pro team. Is this a FIFA facility? Of course it is said Jack, echoed by the Australians’ Swiss-Hungarian consultant.
I had visited the Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence a year earlier and it looked fine. Artificial turf, paid for by FIFA, laid by order of FIFA’s development officer. He’s one of Warner’s sons. It stages pro football every week. What more could be needed?
[Click here for the report of the forensic investigation into twenty years of looting by Jack Warner and his American consiglieri Chuck Blazer of the Concacaf region. The shagging of Australia is on page 96.]
Back to the narrative. The Fools are at the Havelange Centre, day-dreaming of the great jobs they’ll land when the World Cup comes Down Under. What could they do for Jack? Apparently, this gleaming sports complex desperately needed, um, er, wait a moment, Jack will think of something. Yes! The footie stadium needed an ‘Upgrade.’
The Aussie cheque followed a month later. The account name given to them by Warner sounded kind of OK, so there was no need for due diligence. A FFA hand made it out for $462,200. By the time the costs of travelling in the style to which the Fools had become accustomed were bolted on to the limos and dining out, the bill could have been a little short of half a million American dollars.
And that was the last anyone head of it. The investigators in the Caribbean couldn’t find any trace of Australia’s money. It disappeared. Evaporated. The bank account it went to wasn’t anything to do with football. It was a Warner personal account. Wearily, the investigators concluded: ‘fraud and misappropriated.’
The money didn’t just plunge into a Caribbean void. All mention seems to have been erased back in Sydney. There was no public record of the voyage of the Ship of Fools to Trinidad and their big cheque. Not a proud press release, nothing in the FFA’s 2011 Final Report to the Government on the World Cup Bid and how they spent $45 million for the taxpayer and silence in FFA’s annual financial statements for the 2010-11 financial year.
Why was this act of great generosity not plastered across Aussie media? Punted out to the international media? Why weren’t the Fools beating their chests before the cameras? Did they know something wasn’t right?
Once the forensic audit report was running on the wires, the Fools couldn’t hide the disappearing donation any longer.
"The funds were allocated from FFA’s international football development budget at the time and were not part of government funds provided to the World Cup bid," insisted FFA mouthpiece Kyle Patterson.
Then he declined to say more. The published figures can’t be trusted but we’ll have to take his word for it. Were his fingers crossed behind his back?
WHO GOT AUSTRALIA INTO THIS MESS?
What was the role of Peter Hargitay, their highly-paid ‘consultant’ who knows more than most of us about the inside of prison cells. The hiring of this professional con-artist by FFA remains mystifying. He’s on record as a boastful private investigator claiming to hack communications and bank accounts — and deliver secret black bag services to Sepp Blatter.
The record also shows he’d never won a bid for anything. His previous experience was limited to a few months with the England bid before being booted out. He cost Australia a lot of money and delivered nothing but extortionate fee demands, hefty expenses chits for him and his son Stevie — and an introduction to a Jack Warner bank account.
Who vouched for Hargitay’s integrity? SBS-TV football commentator Les Murray (pictured above). Westfield shopping malls billionaire Frank Lowy, also boss of the FFA. Frank, Les and conman Hargitay all speak Hungarian. There are no Hungarian-speaking officials at FIFA.
When the Australians hired him, did he admit that he has long been a paid consultant to Warner? They worked together in London, the Caribbean and Switzerland, lying to reporters and goodness knows what else. When Warner pocketed Australia’s $462,000 — did Hargitay get a commission, a cut of the loot he had steered from Australia to the Caribbean crook?
There are strong suspicions Hargitay was working secretly for rival bidders Russia. For many years, he was a paid propagandist and advisor for Qatar’s now discredited Mohamed Bin Hammam who campaigned successfully against Australia for the 2022 tournament.
Is there anybody Hargitay wasn’t taking money from? When Australia’s government, through the FFA, agreed that Jamaica could access up to $60 million for sports development in the Caribbean, Peter Hargitay was being paid three times over — by the FFA, the Jamaican FA and was on commission from an Italian sports company to sell football shirts in Jamaica. Hargitay maintains a villa in Jamaica, owned in Guernsey by a company named Mount Hargita Real Estate Holding. That property is of interest to the London lawyers chasing him on a £2 million debt he has dodged paying for nearly 20 years.
Hargitay also persuaded Australia to pay for a Trinidad Under-20 team to attend a training camp in Cyprus. The bills submitted by Warner need forensic analysis. Why Cyprus? That’s the opaque jurisdiction where Hargitay hides his businesses. It's time for the FFA to reveal if that’s where they sent his cheques.
Former Australian bid team member Bonita Mersiades was fired in early 2010 when it became clear she had sussed that Hargitay and his son Stevie were con artists. If she had stayed, she would have fought to block this thieving of FFA money. She’ll be saying a lot more about how the bid was run.
(Declaration of interest: I will be publisher later this year of Bonita’s devastating book, The Bid.)
I STOPPED THE THIEVINGBlazer would still be helping himself to football’s money if I had not, in the summer of 2011, published revelatory stories about his tricks. He had got rid of Warner and was expecting many more years of glorious looting.
I disclosed that he was both chief executive and chief financial officer of Concacaf and that the group’s accounts – including his compensation – were not circulated beyond the tiny leadership group. The accounts disclosed up to $2 million a year spent on marketing “Commissions.” But the financial reports didn’t say who got them.
I ran a new story, revealing Blazer’s offshore bank accounts in the Caribbean.
I asked about the money he was taking — and Blazer replied with characteristic abuse, arrogance and deceit.
"This arrangement was never a secret," he boomed, "and has been reported fully to CONCACAF’s members consistent with the level of granularity of other items in the financial reports."
Granularity? What the fuck was this lowlife lying about now? Then I remembered that Blazer specialises in obfuscation. In plain English, Lucky Chuckie wasn’t going to reveal to his executive committee that he was trousering millions of their money every year.
Blazer’s final riposte was:
"You are useless as a journalist."I knew then he was on his way to gaol. The FBI and the IRS began investigating and despite Concacaf’s efforts to suppress the great Warner-Blazer plundering they had no choice, eventually, but to set up the forensic investigation.
HOW DID THEY GET AWAY WITH IT?
Who were the watchdogs that didn’t bark? Over a 20-year period Blazer and Warner stole up to $100 million from football. Blazer’s thieving was easy to discover, most of it visible in Concacaf’s accounts.
Who got copies? Sunil Gulati, involved in Concacaf since the early 1990s got one. Sunil is president of the US Soccer Federation, worked for the World Bank and is now a senior lecturer at Columbia University in New York, teaching Principles of Economics.
An admiring Chuck Blazer told Sports Illustrated:
"Sunil’s good at everything he does."The article added that Sunil asks ‘Socratic questions of his students’.
Sunil was so convinced of Jack Warner and Sepp Blatter’s integrity that he arranged a private meeting in the White House with President Obama, to boost America’s bid to stage the World Cup. He was pictured with the deeply corrupt Nicolas Leoz – who has just exited FIFA – keeping his swag.
For the last 15 months, Sunil has been a member of FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee, sitting tight as the growingly confident Blatter tells them to stick their reform proposals where the sun don’t shine. Bafflingly, Sunil insisted last week that
‘...at the highest level [in FIFA] there is a sincere effort to try to reform and change the organization.’
Alongside Sunil Gulati at Concacaf sits Jeff Webb. He studied business and finance and is a director of one of the biggest banks in the Cayman Islands. I emailed Sunil and Jeff, asking them why they never took action to stop Blazer’s thieving, why didn’t they ask who was getting the multi-million dollar commissions — and were they concerned that Blazer was both general secretary and chief financial officer?
They have not replied. But Blatter is thrilled with them. He tweeted that Webb is ‘charismatic,’ and shows ‘great leadership and vision’. He said that Webb was ‘brave’ to investigate Warner and Blazer.
Both Jeff and Sunil are on the FIFA gravy train now, elevated to the executive committee and pocketing at least $250,000 a year — plus access to World Cup tickets. Sunil is going to fight for more transparency — perhaps. He says he is willing to disclose what payments and expense money he receives from FIFA — as long as he isn’t bound by a confidentiality agreement.
MOMENTARY SYMPATHYMomentarily,you might feel sympathy for Qatar’s Hassan al-Thawadi and Russia President Putin. Wearily, they welcomed to their palaces the predatory Jack Warner, his empty sack and his poisonous message: I may not vote for you but you have to pay me or I’ll do my best to block your bid.
Plenty did pay and with the other larcenies, he funded the ballot box success of the UNC government in Trinidad. A grateful new Prime Minister, Ms Kamla Persad-Bissessar, gave Warner his dream job. As the nation rocked with incredulous laughter Jack became Minister of Works, deciding which companies should be awarded billion-dollar contracts.
That wasn’t enough. The nation’s top criminal wanted . . . control of the police and the army. Kamla handed them over and he became Minister for National Security. Within days General Jack personally led a battalion of soldiers and police officers and was photographed, hands-on, smashing up an encampment of peaceful protestors, objecting to a new highway.
To bystanders, this was State-Sponsored Terrorism.
Warner craved more power. He demanded that soldiers be given the powers of police officers, providing him with the muscle to launch a coup – or stop the FBI extraditing him. In the shadows he was, reportedly, setting up his own squad of ton ton macoutes to beat up critics.
When Kamla had to sack Jack a week ago, lickspittle Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams chorussed, ‘He has been an exceptional minister and I want to put that on record.’ Kamla said Warner had ‘served with distinction in the Ministries of Works and National Security.’
Slowly, they edge Trinidad towards pariah nation status.
I was invited to comment on Warner and Blazer on radio and TV stations worldwide. Most are independent interviewers. But there’s always one, playing amateur assassin for the Bad Guys. I took the call.
‘Some people are saying that you focus too much on Trinidad?’
Unnamed ‘some people’ is the first clue that they aim to screw you. I pointed out that only four of 33 chapters in my FOUL book feature Warner, his thieving and his ticket rackets, the BBC films, about 10%.
It was time to return service. ‘Many people are saying that a country that puts Jack Warner in charge of the police and army is a banana republic.’ Big explosion in small island. The host, a Mr Paul Richards, pulled the plug on me but I heard him howling at the nation, ‘I will not have a foreigner calling my country a banana republic.’ Clue: ‘Foreigner’ is the racist Warner’s code for ‘White man.’ He’s used it against me in the past. The station, CNMG, is Trinidad government-owned and controlled. Welcome to Radio Pyongyang.
There’s still hope. The Trinidad Guardian and Express have been going after the man known in the rumshops as ‘Jakula.’ For the past week the Express’s top investigative reporter Camini Marajh has been publishing the fruits of months relentless probing Warner’s many bank accounts, general thieving and perjury.
Last week blogger and journalist Lasana Liburd looked at his own nation and how it produced sleazeballs like Warner. Perhaps the best piece of political writing about Trinidad since CLR James, it drew succinct praise from Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott; ‘Truth, well spoken.’
TODAY, AUSTRALIA IS SHAMEDTheir World Cup bid was, so they claim, scrutinised by a slew of public figures and agencies and pronounced clean. Not true: fans had to wait for investigators half a world away to reveal what should have been revealed by FFA officials. If Blazer and Warner not been caught, would Aussie fans ever have been told how that money disappeared?
The money came out of football. $460,200 would have reduced fees paid by kids to play, provided facilities, made the game better.
An independent inquiry is needed to look at the lax way the money was handed over and then the conspiracy of silence, only ruptured when overtaken by the news wires. The Fools show no willingness to investigate themselves or claw back the money. With an election on the horizon the main political parties won’t be about to upset generous donor Frank Lowy or his friend Peter Hargitay.
A crime has been committed against Australia. Will somebody call the Federal Police.
This story was originally published on Andrew Jennings website Transparency in Sport on 26 April 2013 and has been republished with permission. Read also Andrew Jennings story 'What I told the FBI about the FIFA crooks'.