PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad & Tobago: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has declared that she and her government are standing by Works and Transport Minister Austin ‘Jack’ Warner, who was “provisionally suspended” by football’s governing body FIFA over bribery claims.
In a statement issued on Monday evening, hours after FIFA’s Ethics Committee announced the suspension, Persad-Bissessar said Warner must be allowed every opportunity to present his side.
“I am fully aware that events like this involving a senior Cabinet minister will be of immense concern to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Likewise, I am concerned by the allegations made and expect an update from Mr. Warner upon his return, which he has assured he will do,” said the release issued by the Office of the Prime Minister.
“At this time, there is no reason for me to arrive at any conclusion regarding the allegations made against Mr. Warner…I will not prejudge the allegations against Minister Warner and, until there is evidence to the contrary, I stand by him,” the statement added.
Persad-Bissessar noted that it is a fundamental tenet of the rule of law that a man is innocent until proven guilty, a right that is enshrined in the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago.
“And so, the decision by FIFA to initiate a provisional suspension of its Vice President Jack Warner, pending investigation, is not a determination of guilt but part of a process that we trust will be fair and unprejudiced.
“FIFA is an international sport body that is not part of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago; we therefore have no knowledge about its procedures and the dynamics of its unique internal politics. It would be unfortunate if we made premature adverse judgment and pronouncement on a matter that is under investigation. This would be contrary to the spirit and letter of the laws of our land,” said Persad-Bissessar.
The prime minister described Warner as a “son of the soil” who served the twin-island republic faithfully at FIFA and who was instrumental in leading the country to its first World Cup qualification a few years ago.
FIFA will conduct an investigation into allegations that Warner and another executive and president of the Asian Football Confederation, Mohamed Bin Hammam, offered bribes at a meeting of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) in Trinidad on May 10 and 11. It is alleged that payments of up to US$40,000 were made to secure votes for Bin Hammam in his campaign to challenge Sepp Blatter for the presidency in upcoming elections, scheduled for Wednesday.
Hours before appearing before the Ethics Committee on Monday, Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy.
Along with Warner and Bin Hammam, CFU officials Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester were suspended from all activity connected with the sport until the probe is completed.
If they’re found guilty of bribery, they could be expelled from the organization and banned from all football activity.
In a statement issued Monday afternoon in response to the Ethic Committee’s ruling Warner described his suspension as “an abuse of process” which “achieves no real purpose”.
“I intend to say a lot more on this matter shortly,” said Warner. “In the meantime, I will vigorously defend my reputation as well as the reputation of the rest of the Caribbean members.”