Port of Spain, Trinidad – More than 10 years after the disgraced international football executive, Austin Jack Warner, was booted out of the coalition People’s Partnership government and told to go “clear” his name of several corruption related charges in the United States, he has returned to the political hustings hoping to boost the chances of the opposition party in the August 14 Local Government Elections.
In April 2013, Warner was forced to resign from the United National Congress (UNC)-led People’s Partnership government with then prime minister Kamla Persad Bissessar later indicating that “I have said repeatedly to Mr Warner, clear your name and come back home.
“As long as Mr Warner does not clear his name, then we can’t accept him in the House of the Rising Sun. It’s as simple as that,” she added.
But on Monday night, dressed in a yellow shirt, the colour of the UNC, where he once served as chairman, Warner, 80, told party supporters “this kind of greetings I have just received, I am asking myself why wasn’t I hear before”.
In 2015, the International Football Federation (FIFA) banned Warner, who had served as its vice president from 1990-2011, from all soccer-related activities for life.
US prosecutors allege that from as far back as 1990, Warner leveraged his influence and exploited his official positions for personal gain.
Among other things, he is accused of receiving five million US dollars in bribes – sent via more than two dozen separate wire transfers, from 10 different shell companies, to a Caribbean Football Union account he controlled at Republic Bank in Trinidad and Tobago – to vote for Russia to host the 2018 World Cup.
Warner was one of 14 defendants charged in connection with the 24-year scheme that prosecutors alleged was designed to “enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer”.
As he addressed the UNC supporters at the Centre of Excellence, along the east-west corridor, and considered by his detractors and accusers to be a symbol of his wealth gained through his FIFA days, Warner was greeted with signs that read “Welcome Back Home”.
Warner, who joined Persad Bissessar and former police commissioner Gary Griffith, who heads the National Transformation Alliance (NTA) on the platform, described the UNC leader as “the Mandela of local politics” for her vision of national unity and ridiculed two senior government ministers who have promised to give him “a one way ticket to the United States” and a red card.
“Tonight, I am here by choice. We come together to fight the common enemy. Nothing is gained by division. This country is heading down into an abyss quickly, and our collective efforts must be brought together to save this country,” said Warner, who said he intends to dismantle his Independent Liberal Party (ILP) that had failed to make any impression in the past general election.
He defended his decision to wear a yellow shirt without the party’s emblem saying he would only do so when he has earned the right to do so.
“When I earn my dues, I will convene a meeting with the ILP and disband it. The ILP has to be formally reintegrated with the UNC. We are one family, one family, one family,” Warner said.
“And with Gary and myself and the best prime minister this country has ever seen, you have no cause for fear, and that is why on August the 14th, I’m asking you to come out in your numbers. Don’t tote, vote!” (CMC)