Fear and Loathing in Port-of-Spain

There's something particularly poignant about photographs taken just before a catastrophe of some kind, when everyone is smiling and happy and they have no idea that their lives are about to go straight down the drain.

For example, on May 9, 2011, when FIFA Vice President Mohammad Bin Hammam flew into Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, he stopped by the Caribbean Football Union Headquarters building (owned by Jack Warner and leased to the CFU for a handsome price) and, like any other politician, happily posed for a picture.

Which is how he ended up grinning broadly with his arm around Debbie Minguell, who was the Administrative Assistant to the CFU's General Secretary.

The next morning, just before the brief 20 minute stump speech Bin Hammam claimed was the reason he had flown in, he once again obligingly posed for a photo with a CFU Event Coordinator named Jason Sylvester, by all accounts a bright, hard working young man looking to make a career in football, as they stood in the main ballroom of the Grand Hyatt.

Moments later, the Qatari took to the podium and began speaking while, as we know now, Sylvester and Minguell got together in the meeting room next door, opened a bag filled with one million dollars in US currency and began stuffing $40,000 bundles of it into plain manila envelopes, sealing them up and writing the names of the various CFU Federations on each one.

About an hour later and less than 100 yards away, Bahamian delegate Fred Lunn snapped his now famous cell phone shot of Jason and Debbies' handiwork and sent it off to his boss in Zurich. The rest, as they say, is history.

To make a long story - and a long investigation - very, very short, the entire FIFA/CONCACAF/Bin Hammam/Warner scandal is all about what happened between Jason smiling for the camera and Fred Lunn pressing the shutter button on his smart phone.

Jack Warner wasn't anywhere to be found. Bin Hammam had headed back to the airport. Even if their lives depended on it, neither Jack nor Mo can testify truthfully as to what transpired in the room where the cash was doled out.

Similarly, the 22 representatives who were allowed into the room one at a time can only tell us - if they so choose - what happened in the few moments they were there. They really don't know what any of their fellows did or said or took or didn't take.

Only two people know the whole story:

Who gave them the bag with the million bucks? Who told them what to do with it? Who told them how much to put into each envelope? Who told them to instruct the representatives not to tell anyone about it? Who gave them the forms each one of the recipients had to sign? Did any of them ask any questions? Who? What did they ask and what did you tell them?

And finally: how many envelopes did you hand out, and who did you give them to?

When the Ethics Committee issued the suspensions just before the FIFA Presidential vote, they named four people: Bin Hammam, Warner, Minguell and Sylvester.

Which effectively cost all of them their jobs. Mo and Jack have other sources of income. Debbie and Jason, as full time paycheck-to-paycheck employees of the CFU, don't. FIFA effectively banned them from going to work the next morning and, in effect, banned the CFU from giving them further remuneration.

(Both their names have been diligently scrubbed from the CFU website. It's like they never even existed.)

Justice Damaseb asked them both to come to Zurich, at FIFA's expense, to testify as to what they knew. They both refused.

Damaseb then invited them to testify by video or even telephone. They refused.

As of today, they are both refusing to meet with Freehs' investigators in Miami, in Nassau (where the CFU members agreed to testify), in Port-of-Spain (where Freehs' people offered to meet them) or anyplace else.

Not coincidentally, Mingeull and Sylvester are Trinidadian citizens. Both live just outside Port of Spain. Or they did until June 1.They haven't been heard from since and nobody expects to hear from them any time soon.

The Trinidad & Tobago national police, under increasing pressure from the public, the media and opposition politicians, say they aren't able to investigate Jack Warner for any possible criminal involvement in the CFU bribery scandal because FIFA won't give them the information they need and furthermore they don't have the financial resources to fly around the hemisphere taking statements from all the people who were there.

Which is, of course, politically motivated poppycock.

Minguell and Sylvester know more than all the other witnesses put together, and neither one of them lives more than ten miles from police headquarters. The cops could interview them both, nail down all the facts, get indictments and still manage to be home on time for dinner with the wife and kids.

As we know, Warner is out of FIFA forever.

Ever since his resignation, Jack and his attorney have been doing a disgusting, despicable victory dance, telling everyone that "the presumption of innocence" means that the Ethics Committee has "exonerated" him "of all charges".

This finally drew an absolutely blistering response from Sondre Kåfjord, a committee member who is a former head of the Norway FA, a former university rector and a highly distinguished civil economist, who tore into Warner like Katrina hitting New Orleans.

He rubbished the idea that legal presumption is remotely the same thing as actual innocence and added, for good measure, that if Warner even thinks about sniffing his way back into football in any way shape or form all bets are off, he'll immediately be banned for life and everything they know about him will hit the open market 10 minutes later.

Soon afterwards, T&T Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who up until now had been Warners' loyal servant - every time she left the island she'd name him "Acting Prime Minister" whereupon he'd start kicking asses and demanding (literally) hangings - announced that she was "reshuffling" her cabinet which seemed to mostly mean that half of Warners' job was taken away from him.

There's currently very little doubt that it will take a miracle for him to survive in the government in any way. The party he personally financed and, as chairman, led to a stunning electoral victory, is getting ready to forget they ever knew him.

As much as Warner - and Bin Hammam, who is simply a corpse at this point - will feel ill treated in all of this, nobody is likely to feel even remotely sorry for either of them.

This is a story with some real heroes, some real villains and even some comic relief; (Lisle Austin is in court this week asking Bahamian Justice Stephen "Corrupt, Bribe Taking Fool"Isaacs to find that CONCACAF is ignoring his order, which is of course absolutely true, for good reason.)

The question is, where do we put Debbie and Jason in all of that? As one CONCACAF official told me, "We were hoping that they would come forward out of a sense of personal ethics", but it appears that ship has sailed.

But it's really hard to cast them as villains; two workaday people who did what they were told and now find themselves holding the key to an international sports scandal, the football careers of a lot of very important men and the political career - if not the continued liberty - of the most powerful politician in their own country.

It's hard not to feel just a little sorry for them.

On the other hand, I'm certain all that money from Jack is coming in handy.

Pass out bribes - accept hush money, all pretty much the same thing, really.