It's Worse Than You Thought

The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope is mostly remembered for his habit of wandering the streets of Athens carrying a lantern and looking for an honest man. Somewhat less familiar is the fact that, to his peers, he was known as Diogenes the Cynic because he didn't actually expect to find one. (Put another way, the point of the exercise was to prove that no such person existed). He was decidedly of the Dr. Gregory House school of thought: everybody lies.

Which brings us to the recently concluded FIFA Congress where, if not for the open, bald-faced bullshit, nothing at all would have been said.

There's so much to sort through that it's hard to know where to begin, and as if the stuff that came out in Budapest wasn't enough, boatloads of even better stuff came to light over the weekend.

I'm as giddy as a schoolgirl.

Since the hot topic at the moment is Jack Warner and the Amazing Disappearing Real Estate, let's start there and, for those of you who either missed it previously or who might need a quick refresher, here's the background:

In he mid-nineties, Jack Warner decided that what CONCACAF needed was a big multipurpose center for conventions, training, meetings and whatnot, and he had some plans drawn up for a complex with a 50 bed hotel, conference and banquet facilities, an Olympic sized swimming pool, a world class fitness center, a "garden sanctuary" complete with reflecting pool and - oh yes - six practice fields and a 6000 seat stadium.

He was told that it would cost about US$16 million.

Unfortunately, the entire FIFA development budget for all of CONCACAF combined for the coming cycle (1999 to 2002) only came to US$10 million.

Luckily for Jack, however, Sepp Blatter was running for President of FIFA at the time and so he not only got approval to spend the entire 10 mil but FIFA then went ahead and guaranteed a loan from UBS for the other 6 million, and the thing got built, opening in May of 1998.

You can check out the result here.

Trouble was, a year and a half went by and Jack never paid UBS a single dime.

Now, in some organizations this might be a problem. But not in FIFA and definitely not for a guy who controlled 35 votes.

Instead, FIFA Finance Committee Chairman Julio Grondona of Argentina, along with Blatter himself, sent Jack a latter informing him that "since it appears unfeasible that your confederation will find the means" to service the debt, FIFA was paying it off for him.

(Emphasis mine)

Where they got the authority to do this is still an open question, but UBS got a check from Zurich and stamped Paid in Full on Jack's Palace.

Which is how most people assumed it remained until last Thursday when CONCACAF's auditors and their chief outside counsel, John Collins, reported to the confederation Congress that, lo and behold, they don't legally own the Centre; Jack Warner holds the title deed to every last brick, folding chair and overfed reflecting pond koi.

What's more, as you've undoubtedly heard, the place is in hock up to the rafters, on a defaulted mortgage taken out by Warner and his loveable lapdog Lisle Austin.

The assembled representatives were shocked - SHOCKED - to learn of these foul deeds. Newly minted President Jeff Webb used that exact word.

Of course, a certain BigSoccer blogger (modesty forbids) has been loudly complaining about Warner having stolen the place for the better part of a year, which begs the question: how is it that I, a lowly nobody sipping single malt and blogging in my Superman footie jammies in the backwoods of Pennsylvania, knew what Jack was doing but Webb, Blatter, Jerome Valcke, the CONCACAF Executive Committee and everyone else had no Earthly idea what was going on?

Seriously?

First out of the box on Friday with a response was none other than former CONCACAF President-for-a Day Austin who, when asked about his role in hocking Confederation property, offered up this wonderful candidate for "Hilarious Quote of the Year" to Staebroek News, in Barbados:

“I have nothing to hide, and as a trustee. All I did was sign.”

Or, put another way, "I'm so stupid that I willingly committed bank fraud and then let Jack have all the money."

Later that day Warner told The Trinidad Express that - incredibly - the Centre was "a gift from Joao Havelange to the CFU."

Now it's true that the records from the ISL case clearly show old Joao pocketing a million or two in bribe money right around that time, but he didn't do it so he could afford to give Jack a lovely parting gift; rather, he took it so that he could give himself a lovely parting gift.

Warner then told the T&T Sunday Guardian that he categorically denies owning the place, adding that “They (FIFA) have all the records, they can check it and see who owns it and who doesn’t own it, what they have paid and what they haven’t paid. What I do know is that I don’t own it, so what is all the fuss about?"

But of course he's really bringing up two seperate questions here:

1) What FIFA paid, and

2) Who owns the joint.

There's not much question about the first one; FIFA paid to have the place built. No debate.

The second question is one that FIFA really can't answer, since Trinidadian property records aren't actually stored in Zurich; rather, they're kept in an office in Port of Spain where, unfortunately for Jack, Lasana Liburd, proprietor of wired868.com, lives with his wife and beautiful little girl.

So Liburd wandered down to the Port-of-Spain property records office, ran off a few photocopies of property records and proved conclusively - as if further evidence was actually required - that Jack Warner is, quite simply, lying his ass off.

For example, Liburd came up with this document from October of 1998:

It shows the land upon which the CoE was built was transferred from one Anthony Sabga (who is, BTW, the owner and publisher of the Trinidad Express) to some guy named Austin Jack Warner. Not CONCACAF. Not the CFU. Jack Warner.

The CoE is shown as being currently owned by three entities: Jack Warner personally and two companies: CCAM and something called Renraw Investments.

And of course Renraw spelled backwards is - well, you were way ahead of me.

In fact, public records show that both companies have only two owners: Jack Warner and his wife Maureen.

Although the place was originally named "The CONCACAF Center of Excellence" (it was renamed, for Jack's buddy Joao, a year or so later) no record reflects CONCACAF ever owning so much as a blade of grass there.

It was Jack's personal property, lock, stock and reflecting pool.

However, being Jack Warner, basically stealing $16 million in order to build an convention center was only the beginning.

- In September of 1998 he borrowed $2 million against the property from First Citizens Bank. CONCACAF was a cosigner.

- In June of 2007 Warner took out another mortgage with the same bank, this time for a whopping $11 million. This is the one Lisle Austin signed, on behalf of CONCACAF (who again, didn't actually own the place and how the bank missed this is a mystery). Austin now says that it was his understanding that the money was for "a new roof".

(And here I thought the Amish guys who did the tear off and reroof on my house were a bit too pricey. Little did I know.)

- Another loan later that same year - for some $13 million - from a private businessman doesn't seem to have been a mortgage per se, but the borrower is listed as Jack Warner, "trading as Dr João Havelange Centre of Excellence, Renraw Investments and CCAM and Company."

This particular loan is now the subject of a lawsuit, and is apparently the reason Collins says that a suit against Warner for the Center is problematical; CONCACAF would have to get in line behind at least one bank in order to gain possession of a property they supposedly own free and clear because FIFA paid all the construction costs.

Apparently nobody has ever explained to Warner that when you borrow money you're then supposed to pay it back. There is no evidence that, through four loans totaling a jaw-dropping $32,000,000, he has ever paid back a dime.

There's more, and I highly recommend Liburd's piece, and in the meantime allow me to summarize:

- FIFA foots the bill for a $16 million complex, built on land which jack Warner owns.

- Said complex is registered and titled to Jack Warner and two other companies of which he is the sloe owner.

- Warner then proceeds to use the property as collateral for loans totalling twice what the place is worth.

- Warner tells the media: "I don’t own it"

As for any local political fallout, here are two samples of what we can expect:

On Friday, after the wild events at the CONCACAF Congress in Budapest, Trinidad & Tobago's main TV station - CNC3 - ran a long video piece on what took place.

Jack Warner and the Center of Excellence were not mentioned.

Then, on Monday, in what is either a stunningly bad piece of timing or a cunningly planned piece of theater, the T&T Department of Public Prosecutions issued a statement saying that after investigating Warner's role in the Bin Hammam money-smuggling and open bribery affair of a year ago they have decided that Jack did nothing wrong and are closing the investigation.

This despite the fact that the police did not contact or talk to one single FIFA, CFU or CONCACAF source, including several who live within 15 minutes of the police station.

Warner told reporters “I guess that will make Fixin’ T&T and all my other detractors, including, Opposition MP Fitzgerald Hinds, very unhappy indeed.”

He added that the whole thing was just a campaign by his enemies to "demonise" him.