By RON FANFAIR
Soccer’s world governing body has provisionally suspended longstanding Guyana Soccer Federation president Colin Klass and charged 15 other Caribbean soccer officials with breaching rules of ethics in the wake of the bribery scandal that saw International Soccer Federation (FIFA) vice-president Austin “Jack” Warner resign and Asian Soccer Federation president Mohamed Bin Hammam banned for life.
The officials are suspected of accepting or being offered $40,000 in cash to support Bin Hammam against FIFA President Sepp Blatter, then denying their actions to investigators led by former FBI director Louis Freeh.
FIFA added that the 16 will be invited for interviews by Freeh’s team as part of an investigation led by Robert Torres, a judge from Guam.
“It is important to note that the investigations are still ongoing, and that it is therefore possible that further proceedings could be opened in the future,” FIFA said in a statement.
An investigation was launched after soccer officials from the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands claimed they were offered brown envelopes stuffed with four piles of $100 bills.
Soccer officials from Puerto Rico, Surinam, Aruba, Curacao and Grenada later cooperated with the FIFA investigation by confirming they were offered $40,000 payments.
Last week, FIFA suspended Caribbean soccer official Lisle Austin for a year for breaching statutes in the ongoing fallout from the presidential election bribery scandal. FIFA says its disciplinary committee suspended Austin, also a Warner ally, for breaking rules by taking his dispute with the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Associations of Football (CONCACAF) to a civil court in the Bahamas.
Austin can appeal.
The Barbados official became acting CONCACAF president in May after FIFA provisionally suspended Warner for allegedly helping Hammam bribe Caribbean voters.
CONCACAF suspended Austin days later when he tried to fire Chuck Blazer, the American general secretary who had alerted FIFA to the alleged bribery.
Austin plans to continue his action in the Bahamian court regardless of his suspension, and believes that “ultimately fairness and truth will prevail”.
“FIFA’s desperate attempt to suspend me through its kangaroo court affirms that it believes my rights to judicial due process are inferior to its interests of sweeping under the rug any attempt to bring transparency to the football world,” Austin said. “FIFA’s present leadership has once again shown that it is a corrupt cabal of arrogance and cronyism, administered by individuals who continue to act outside the rule of law, seeking to destroy anyone who dares to question the existing regime. The hearing was yet another attempt to marginalize and silence calls for reform and transparency in FIFA’s lucrative dominance over the game of football.”
Warner, CONCACAF’s president since 1990 and a FIFA executive member for 28 years, resigned from his positions in soccer, thus ending FIFA’s investigation into ethics violations against him.
“As a consequence of Mr. Warner’s self-determined resignation, all ethics committee procedures against him have been closed and the presumption of innocence is maintained,” FIFA said in a release.
FIFA’s ethics panel also suspended for a year Caribbean Football Union officials Jason Sylvester and Debbie Minguell, who refused to cooperate with the ethics committee investigation, for their role in distributing the cash-stuffed envelopes in a Trinidad hotel.
The 16 Caribbean officials being investigated are Colin Klass and Noel Adonis (Guyana), David Hinds and Mark Forde (Barbados), Franka Pickering and Aubrey Liburd (British Virgin Islands), Osiris Guzman and Felix Ledesma (Dominican Republic), Joseph Delves and Ian Hypolite (St. Vincent & the Grenadines), Hillaren Frederick (U.S. Virgin Islands), Richard Groden (Trinidad & Tobago), Patrick Mathurin (St. Lucia), Anthony Johnson (St. Kitts & Nevis), David Frederick (Cayman Islands) and Yves Jean-Bart (Haiti).