Jack Warner, Daddy Dearest and the Sinking Ship

WHEN the customs officials approached Daryan Warner in the airport and inquired about the bag full of US currency he was carrying, a quick call to Daddy smoothed everything out. Then he got on the plane.... Last September, in response to widespread charges that she is shielding Defense Minister Jack Warner from facing criminal charges and demands that he be dismissed from the government, Trinidad & Tobago PM Kamla Bissessar held a massive political meeting to rally the faithful.

Standing before an overflow crowd of People's Party supporters, she denied Warner was in any way corrupt, and said that all the charges flying around were simply rumors and lies circulated by their opponents.

Her voice ringing with anger, she told the cheering crowd that she had never seen a single, solitary shred of actual evidence that Jack Warner was in any way corrupt.

This moving defense of her senior cabinet minister might have actually been convincing had it not been delivered in the main meeting room of the CONCACAF Centre of Excellence, the US$22 million complex built entirely with FIFA development funds that Warner blatantly stole from Caribbean football, claiming that it was a "personal gift" from former FIFA President Joao Havelange.

In Trinidad, there's a major highway construction project intended to connect San Fernando with Point Fortin. Large amounts of money are involved, which is why Jack Warner, as Works Minister, personally let the contracts to a company out of Brazil with close ties to disgraced former Brazil FA and World Cup 2014 head Ricardo Texiera, whose appetite for payoffs, kickbacks and outright bribery was legendary. I'll leave it to you to ponder why Jack might have chosen that particular firm.

Part of the project involves a side connector from Debe to Mon Desir which will necessitate the destruction of large numbers of homes and businesses in a very poor area, as well as do substantial - some say massive - damage to the environment by destroying a lagoon, among other things.

Jack doesn't care about lagoons and homes, but he does care about the powerful business and political interests who want the connector built.

So after months of being ignored by Warner and the rest of the government, university lecturer Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh, an environmental and social activist, set up a squatter's village smack in the middle of the route where the bulldozers were headed and began a highly publicized hunger strike.

So the machines sat and Warner fumed while his pals over at the construction company screamed that they were losing money every day they had to waste sit around watching a bunch of hippies babble nonsense about social justice, the rights of poor people (as if) and the environment.

In the middle of all this, the PM did a cabinet shakeup and Warner was suddenly defense minister. Less than 48 hours later truckloads of soldiers and police showed up at the demo, rousted the protesters, arrested anyone who complained - including Dr. Kublaisingh - and set fire to the tents and shacks while Jack stood around smiling and applauding and giving orders.

Problem is, Warner had absolutely no constitutional authority to do anything of the kind. He didn't even bother to ask for a court order or go through the police or military chain of command. He just got on the phone, rounded up some heavily armed guys and headed out to bust some skulls.

Which might be a problem in some places but not in T&T where power is all that matters and Jack Warner has it.

Kublaisingh continued his hunger strike anyway, causing Warner to remark - publicly - that he wished the guy would "hurry up and die".

The professor ended the strike in November after a coalition of community groups got the government to agree to "a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed Debe to Mon Desir section of the highway, a social impact assessment and a hydrological, terrestrial and marine ecological report of the affected area.”

Which doesn't sound terribly unreasonable; many places would have done this BEFORE the bulldozers started moving dirt, but Jack, as he tells people, is "A Man of Action".

All of which would have been just another example of abuse of power were it not for another comment Warner made at the time, telling the media that the uniformed personnel he had ordered to do his bidding were like a new kind of "Flying Squad".

Now as it happens, the term "Flying Squad" has a particularly ominous ring to the citizens of T&T. Years ago, in response to rampant crime and corruption, government officials organized a number of squads, made up largely of police auxiliaries, and authorized them to go forth and fight crime without reference to official channels.

As one might expect, the Flying Squads quickly turned into a bunch of thugs, extorting money, stealing what they wanted, locking up people who complained and eventually engaging in a litany of crimes including drug dealing, rape and murder.

A new government managed to end their reign of terror, but a lot of people have ugly memories of the period and Warner's use of the term was unsettling, although all and sundry assured the media that Jack was just, you know, being Jack. Nothing in it. Really.

Currently, like much of the Caribbean, Trinidad & Tobago is experiencing a wave of violent crime, mostly due to the drug trade, which has found more or less safe haven in the region now that the British Navy, due to budgetary restraints, has ended their patrolling of the local waters.

(In response, the previous T&T government ordered three so-called OPV's, medium sized naval patrol ships, from a company in Great Britain. When Jack took office he cancelled the order, saying they weren't necessary, and announced that he was going to get the US Navy to come do the job for him. Unfortunately it appears that the Defense Department isn't returning his calls, so he just ordered SIX very similar ships from a yard in Brazil where, presumably, they were more than happy to cut him in on the deal.)

Warner, in line with his new mantra of being A Man of Action, has pushed through a number of responses.

One of them allowed the issuance of much better firepower to the police, along with vastly increased numbers of vehicles which, in order to expedite emergency response (or something), Jack has them take home at night.

Then he opened up a bunch of new police "sub stations" scattered across the island with large "holding areas" (some are calling them "camps") in case, you know, they run across large crowds of crooks they needed to lock up for a bit.

No one will know how many actual crooks there are though because Warner has ordered the government to stop releasing crime figures. He says that they only "encourage more crime". But trust him, it's really really bad.

Next he insisted that the problem really is a shortage of police, so he got the government to authorize him to deputize and arm 1000 soldiers, with an option for more, to fight crime under his personal direction.

And just last week Jack began telling people that he has "evidence" that the opposition political parties are holding meetings where the topic of discussion is how to "destabilize" the country, through massive amounts of crime, in preparation for a coup.

Does any of this strike you as vaguely, you know, worrying? Any historical corollaries come to mind? Just asking.

Now comes a Trinidadian gentleman by the name of Mervyn Cordner, who is described as "a former National Security operative".

Cordner has told a reporter that he and others recently "established a Flying Squad" with the full knowledge and approval of the Ministry of National Security (J. Warner, Proprietor) and had begun covert operations in "crime fighting" on behalf of the Ministry.

The Prime Minister leaped into action: she refused to allow any government official, including specifically Jack Warner, to discuss the accusations with either the media or national legislators. The fact that she also announced that she was going to investigate the situation personally provided little comfort.

Today in the national legislature opposition Senator Fitzgerald Hines will officially direct several specific questions to Warner, which he is legally required to answer, regarding whether said Flying Squad was operating under Warner's orders and whether public assets were handed over to it's members.

Either action would amount to crimes, but arresting a man with his own private Gestapo and system of concentration camps may prove problematical.

The good news is that Uncle Jack may finally have run up against an opponent who is not even a little intimidated by this petty liar, thief and grifter, and couldn't care less about his personal posse of thugs.

That party is the United States Government.

Since last Fall, there have been a smattering of reports in the media - none of them containing much substance - which alluded to various US law enforcement agencies including the Justice Department, the New York District Attorney, the IRS and Homeland Security looking into Jack Warner's financial activities.

But there was never anything you could hang your hat on; no quotes for attribution, no court filings, nothing official of any kind.

Now, in the last couple of weeks, details are emerging that seem to indicate that Jack may have finally run out his string.

It began unraveling in late November, when Warner's oldest son, Daryan, was supposedly approached by customs officials at Piarco International Airport in Port of Spain - apparently acting on a tip - while he was waiting in the departure lounge for a flight to Miami and they found he was carrying a bag containing US$100,000 which he had not declared.

Reportedly, Daryan made a phone call to "a government minister" (it may be just coincidental, but his father is the "government minister" in charge of the T&T Customs Service) and he was released and allowed to board his plane.

But when he debarked at Miami International he was immediately approached by US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials (also acting on a tip) who found - shockingly - the same bag of undeclared money in his possession and reportedly placed him under arrest.

Then, in January, the IRS found records indicating that younger son Darryl - a Miami resident and, somehow, incredibly, now a US citizen - had been dabbling in the Miami real estate market.

Specifically, he had just paid cash for four condominiums at $100,000 a pop. And since, according to their records, his reported income amounts to around $6000 a month, they were, shall we say, "curious" about where the money was coming from.

A cynic might say that this activity looks a lot like "money laundering" for the sake of Dear Old Dad back in the islands, but we'd hate to be accused of jumping to conclusions.

Reports now claim that Daryan is still in Miami under house arrest and while Darryl is not under any kind of official detention his (US) passport has been seized, making a run to the safety of T&T and Daddy's loving arms pretty much impossible.

Up until now, reporters attempting to confirm the story have run up against a problem, namely that none of the Warner's names and/or any charges against them show up on the PACERS system, which the criminally-inclined among you will recognize as the US Department of Justice's official public database.

Furthermore, inquiries to various law enforcement and judicial agencies are routinely turned away with a polite but firm "we have nothing for you on that".

Now, word is spreading that the reason is simple: the US government, and cooperating agencies worldwide, have obtained a sealed indictment against Jack Warner.

And the best part? According to T&T TV6 News, "high ranking intelligence officials in the US and Trinidad confirm that both sons are cooperating with authorities in return for a promise of leniency".

On March 10, the Sunday T&T Guardian reported that:

"...investigation has revealed the minister’s son is under house arrest in the US and is also assisting the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with investigations. Sources say US authorities have already signaled their intention to interview the minister...

Since his son’s detention, local sources say, the minister has not traveled to the US. The investigations, sources say, have so far centred on money-laundering, fraud and tax evasion."

Jack is, of course, defiant and issued a clear threat to sue the crap out of anyone bold enough to publish the story:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=lUYZP5OWbR4

This has led to some odd contortions from local media. For example, THIS REPORT from TV6 News which covers the story but does not mention either son's name.

My favorite is this one from The Guardian where the reporters says he talked on the phone to "the 45-year-old son of a senior government minister."

It's worth noting that the formerly globe-trotting Warner recently declined an invitation to attend a major international conference on Caribbean crime, which was to be attended by among other the Attorney General of the US. He said he had to stay home in order to monitor local crime.

Uh huh.

There's much more to come as the facts continue to leak out, but for us here I wanted to add a sad, frustrating, infuriating postscript to the story about the purloined soccer complex:

The most recent improvement at the facility - now called "Jack Warner's Center of Excellence" by the locals - was a full sized artificial turf field, paid for with US$600,000 in FIFA Goal Program funds in 2005 (note that Havelange, who supposedly "gifted" the place to Warner, left office in 1998).

FIFA still has a page up describing the field, which is the only one of it's kind in the country.

Earlier this year, T&T's U17 team qualified to advance from the Caribbean into the CONCACAF tournament in Panama next month which will determine who from the confederation will go to the finals in the UAE.

When they learned that the games in Panama will be played on plastic, team managers called up the CoE to book the field, at full rental rates of course, for practices. A clerk told them that the dates were open and available.

A few days later they received an email from the same clerk, a copy of which was obtained by Wired868:

“This email serves to inform that we will be unable to facilitate the U-17 team at the Marvin Lee Stadium due to instructions passed on to us by our superiors”

The facility lists only Jack and Maureen Warner as its directors. It's currently rented out for concerts, flea markets, business conventions and church retreats, among other things. It's open to all comers.

Except the people for whom the place was built.