Regional ex-soccer executives accused of fraud

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Associated Press

Posted on April 20, 2013 at 3:00 PM

Updated Saturday, Apr 20 at 3:07 PM

PANAMA CITY (AP) —   Luxury apartments, a military-style Hummer vehicle and even car insurance for a girlfriend. That's just part of the lifestyle that former CONCACAF secretary general Chuck Blazer allegedly enjoyed with the regional soccer organization's money, a report by its ethics and integrity committee says.

  Blazer also is accused of violating U.S. and perhaps state and local laws by not having tax returns submitted for the Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Football from 2004-10, according to the report released Friday that accuses him and former CONCACAF president Jack Warner of enriching themselves through fraud.

CONCACAF and FIFA, soccer's world governing body, have not decided what steps to take. But the first political fallout from the report came swiftly.

Soon after the report was released, the leader of Trinidad's main opposition party said he will seek Warner's resignation as the island's national security minister.

Opposition leader Keith Rowley said late Friday that he will present the issue for debate in Parliament next week. "Mr. Warner cannot continue to serve as a minister of government," Rowley said.

The 113-page report about the activities of Warner and Blazer was presented the CONCACAF congress in Panama City, with FIFA President Sepp Blatter in attendance.

"Our information shows they committed fraud," committee member David Anthony Cathcart Simmons said. The committee said it based its findings on documents and interviews with dozens of people.

Warner and Blazer have responded to past accusations by denying any wrongdoing.

CONCACAF appointed the investigative committee under the leadership of current President Jeffrey Webb in an effort to get beyond the scandals after Warner and Blazer quit. Simmons said the pair did not cooperate with the investigation.

The 70-year-old Warner resigned as CONCACAF president and his position on FIFA's executive committee in June 2011 after Blazer accused him and then-Asian confederation head Mohamed bin Hammam of attempting to bribe Caribbean delegates $40,000 each to vote for bin Hammam in the FIFA presidential election. Blazer resigned as CONCACAF's secretary general in December 2011; his term on FIFA's executive committee runs until May 30.

Simmons accused Blazer of "misappropriating" at least $15 million by compensating himself with CONCACAF funds without authorization after his last contract expired in July 1998. Simmons alleged that the 67-year-old Blazer, the most senior American official at FIFA for 16 years, also bought apartments with CONCACAF money and failed to have the organization file its tax returns in the U.S., causing it to lose its nonprofit organization tax-exempt status. It said that from 2004-10, CONCACAF and-or its marketing company failed to file returns.

"Blazer went out of his way to avoid engaging the IRS at any level at great expense to CONCACAF," the report said.

Blazer didn't respond to an email seeking comment after the report was released. In the past, he attributed money he received to commissions he says were due him for commercial contracts he negotiated.

Warner said late Friday that he had not read the report. "As far as I am aware it is baseless and malicious," he said in a statement. "I left CONCACAF and turned my back on football two years ago. Since then I have had no interest in any football-related matter."

Blazer established companies in New York and the Cayman Islands, and his contracts from 1990-98 called for CONCACAF to pay them 10 percent commissions for "sponsorships and TV rights fees" in deals he negotiated, to the U.S. company for the first four years and then to the offshore entity.

The report said that revenue outside the contract's scope was included in the calculations, including ticket money from the Gold Cup tournament, and that CONCACAF continued to pay commissions after the second deal expired on July 17, 1994 — the day of the World Cup final. The report said Blazer appeared to take a $300,000 commission on a $3 million payment FIFA's marketing arm made to CONCACAF in 2006 to construct a television studio.

The report claimed Blazer "misappropriated CONCACAF funds to finance his personal lifestyle," causing the organization to "subsidize rent on his residence in the Trump Tower in New York; purchase apartments at the Mondrian, a luxury hotel and residence in Miami; sign purchase agreements and pay down payments on apartments at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas."

It also alleged Blazer used CONCACAF funds to buy a Hummer for his own personal use and pay car insurance, as well as employee health insurance, for himself and his girlfriend.

In addition to Blazer's administrative and financial dealings, the committee also focused on Warner, who headed CONCACAF from 1990 until 2011.

The committee said it found "fraud" in the management of a training center built in 1995 to help players in the region train and improve their game, Simmons said.

The center, later named in honor of former FIFA president Joao Havelange, was built at Macoya in Warner's home country of Trinidad and Tobago. Warner at the time was also a FIFA vice president and a member of its executive committee.

"Warner represented to FIFA that funds would be used to support development but never told FIFA that Centre would be situated on land owned by his companies," Simmons said. One of the companies was named "Renraw" — Warner spelled backwards.

Warner "deceived persons and organizations" into believing the facility was CONCACAF's and not his, he added. Almost $26 million were invested in that project between 1996-06, with a large portion of the funds donated by FIFA.

Australia's soccer federation provided $462,200 to upgrade a stadium at the Havelange center around September 2010, according to the report. "The funds, however, were not accounted for in the CONCACAF general ledger or reported as income in its financial statements for 2010," it added. Instead, the report said the money was deposited into a "comingled" account that included Warner's personal money.

At the time, Australia was seeking votes in its bid to stage the 2022 World Cup.

"I have recounted a sad and sorry tale in the life of CONCACAF," Simmons, a former Barbados chief justice, said in a lengthy discourse about the report Friday evening. He called it "a tale of abuse of position and power, by persons who assisted in bringing the organization to profitability but who enriched themselves at the expense of their very own organizations."

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