Soccer-Financial mismanagement allegations stun CONCACAF congress

BUDAPEST Wed May 23, 2012 6:51pm BST

BUDAPEST May 23 (Reuters) - Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer, the former president and general secretary of the CONCACAF confederation, were guilty of financial mismanagement on a grand scale during their years in office, delegates were told at their congress on Wednesday.

New CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb said he was "shell-shocked, dismayed and mad" as the organisation's auditor John Collins unveiled details of the alleged mismanagement to members from the 40 countries of North and Central America and the Caribbean, which make up the confederation.

Collins told delegates that after investigating CONCACAF's finances for the last five months, he could state that under Blazer it failed to declare revenue to the United States Internal Revenue Service for years. Warner registered a $22.5 million FIFA-funded soccer centre in Trinidad to his own name.

While Warner left FIFA in disgrace last year, Blazer is still CONCACAF's representative on FIFA's executive committee and a heated debate, sparked by a motion from the Bermuda delegate, ended with the Congress voting that he should be removed from FIFA's executive.

That decision is not binding on FIFA because only the world governing body can remove an official from the executive, but it was carried by a majority of 34 delegates with only two voting against.

Other delegates wanted Blazer to be reported to FIFA's Ethics Committee following the tax allegations with another round of legal argument trying to establish whether he would come under ethics committee's jurisdiction if he was not involved in soccer.

In a statement issued to the media, Blazer said no tax returns had been declared in the United States because CONCACAF was a non-profit organisation, and no profits had been made in the U.S.

He also defended his record in charge of CONCACAF.

Blazer said in a statement: "I spent 21 years building the confederation and its competitions and its revenues and I'm the one responsible for its good levels of income. I'm perfectly satisfied that I did an excellent job.

"I think this is a reflection of those who were angry at me having caused the action against Warner and having received money had to go through the ethics committee.

"I now have to consider what my options are but to say the least I am very disappointed."

Blazer said he was "not yet in litigation" to retrieve the payments he was owed but confirmed his contract had included 10 percent of all CONCACAF's TV and sponsorship deals.

The commissions and salary for Blazer totalled between US$4 million and US$5million last year, the meeting was told.

At the same time delegates heard that legal action brought by Lisle Austin, briefly CONCACAF's acting president after Warner's expulsion, had cost CONCACAF about US$800,000 in fees.

POLLUTION AND CONTAMINATION

A succession of delegates demanded a commission of inquiry, the wholesale removal of CONCACAF's executive committee as well as action against Blazer.

Warner walked away from soccer last year and thus did not have to face a FIFA Ethics Commission inquiry relating to bribery allegations surrounding the FIFA presidential election.

Blazer, who did not attend the Congress, resigned as general secretary in December and is no longer employed by CONCACAF.

Auditor Collins told delegates CONCACAF had been misrepresenting its tax status to the U.S. tax authorities between 2007 and 2011 and those liabilities could add up to well over $2 million -- before any penalties that might be imposed.

He also brought gasps of astonishment from delegates when he said he discovered that the $22.5m Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence in Trinidad is not owned by CONCACAF, as all its members had thought, but by two companies owned by former president Warner.

Collins warned Congress that attempts to reclaim the property or its value might be compromised by other legal actions outstanding against the Centre of Excellence.

Jose Brenes-La Roche, vice president of the Puerto Rico FA, said the entire CONCACAF executive committee should stand down as they were "polluted and contaminated" but that suggestion was not accepted by delegates.

Jose Luis Hernandez of Cuba told Webb, who was elected as president earlier on Wednesday: "You are sitting on a time bomb. In all our countries corruption and shady use of resources has a clear name: robbery and theft.

"There are robbers with guns and there are robbers with white collars - and I don't want us to be represented by a thief with a white collar in FIFA."

Webb added that he was "shocked, dismayed, upset and mad - because this should not happen in this day and age and we must decide that it does not happen again."

He also said one cost-saving measure which would come under immediate consideration was ending the $1m-a-year rental of the confederation's offices in Trump Tower in New York's Fifth Avenue.

Webb promised to call an Extraordinary Congress later this year when full financial reports and assessments of liabilities would be available.

In his closing remarks he said: "We need one CONCACAF, Spanish, English, French, Dutch, let us tear down the walls separating us and move forward as one." (Reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Ken Ferris)