Warner and Blazer face likely legal cases and FBI probe

MIAMI Mon Apr 22, 2013 7:37pm IST

FIFA executive member Chuck Blazer attends the 61st FIFA congress at the Hallenstadion in Zurich June 1, 2011. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/Files

FIFA executive member Chuck Blazer attends the 61st FIFA congress at the Hallenstadion in Zurich June 1, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann/Files

MIAMI (Reuters) - Former FIFA officials Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer face possible legal action from soccer's ruling body and probes from the FBI and Internal Revenue Service after a report found they had committed serious acts of fraud.

CONCACAF, which governs the sport in North and Central America and the Caribbean, made public on Friday an Integrity Committee report which highlighted the misuse of millions of dollars from the late 1990s.

On Sunday, Warner, the former CONCACAF president, resigned from his post as minister of national security in the government of Trinidad & Tobago. He followed that up on Monday by resigning as chairman of the United National Congress party.

The Integrity Committee has been asked to come up with recommendations on what steps CONCACAF should now take, while the confederation is also taking legal advice.

The report detailed Warner's private ownership of what CONCACAF believed was its own $25-million Centre of Excellence in his native Trinidad.

The report also described how American Blazer, CONCACAF's former general secretary, had taken $15 million in commissions from 1998 onwards without any agreement on those payments in place.

The 'forensic audit' found Blazer had used the organisation's funds to "finance his personal lifestyle", including purchasing plush apartments in Miami's South Beach and attempting to do the same in the Bahamas while failing to produce tax returns.

Blazer and Warner have denied any wrongdoing.

The confederation is weighing up its legal options and there is certainly no mood to 'forgive and forget' among the body's new leadership.

President Jeffrey Webb heard delegates at Friday's congress urge action to try to regain ownership of the Centre of Excellence and when asked about the possibility of civil cases against Warner and Blazer he said: "We have engaged counsel and we will of course provide our counsel with our report and we will take their advice and then report back to our membership."

NEXT STEPS

CONCACAF's Integrity Committee, headed by former Barbados chief justice David Simmons, has also been asked to formulate a plan on how to act on their findings, which is due within three months.

"We have asked for the next steps some recommendations from the Integrity Committee," said Webb, adding that he expected a response by early July.

Former FIFA vice-president Warner resigned from all football positions in June 2011 while Blazer remains on the executive committee of world soccer's ruling body until he stands down at a congress on May 30.

CONCACAF is now pushing FIFA hard to remove Blazer before that congress and has moved swiftly to make sure the global body's legal and 'investigatory chamber' have all the details of the report.

That could lead FIFA to open a fresh ethics case focusing on the pair.

"I have spoken to the head of legal and he is waiting for the documents to be transmitted to Michael Garcia who is the chairman of the investigatory chamber and he will then deal with the case," FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said on Friday.

While any FIFA bans against Blazer and Warner would be largely symbolic steps, given the pair are unlikely to return to office in the game, the legal action they could face is far more serious and would go well beyond Trinidad and the Caribbean.

The details of the report will be sure to attract the interest of the FBI, which has already been looking into the affairs of Warner and Blazer.

Since at least mid-2011, the FBI has been examining more than $500,000 in payments made by the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) over the past 20 years to an offshore company headed by Blazer. That was a period during which Warner was also head of the CFU, a position he held from the early 1980s until 2011.

The Internal Revenue Service has joined in the investigation, which is looking into potential violations of U.S. tax laws and U.S. anti-fraud statutes, including laws prohibiting wire fraud and mail fraud, law enforcement sources have told Reuters.

"It's shaping up like a major case," one U.S. official familiar with the matter said recently. (Editing by Clare Fallon)

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