... But Works Minister dodges court summons
Trinidad and Tobago Minister of Works and Transport Jack Warner, the former FIFA Vice President and Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) Special Advisor, has until February 10, 2012 to provide to the local High Court written accounts of "all income, donations, gifts, grants or benefits whatsoever and all expenditure" arising from the Germany 2006 World Cup.
However, Justice Devindra Rampersad ruled this morning, via media conferencing at the Port of Spain High Court, that Warner would not be joined to the civil suit over unpaid bonuses, which pits 13 past and present football players against the TTFF and its former President Oliver Camps. Warner, a former history teacher, may consider the ruling to be a Pyrrhic victory—a dangerously expensive triumph.
In an unusual move, Justice Rampersad ruled the TTFF would pay all legal costs despite the fact that attorneys for the "Soca Warriors" were unable to satisfy the court that "at this time... it is necessary to add Mr Warner" to the case.
Defence attorney Om Lalla declared the ruling as "novel" and argued that it ran contrary to "normal principle", despite Justice Rampersad's assertion that he was swayed by the "deplorable" conduct of the defendants. Justice Rampersad permitted Lalla leave to file counter-arguments.
The composition of either team told its own story.
Three of the four local-based claimants, Brent Sancho, Cyd Gray, Anthony Wolfe and Atiba Charles, turned up early and set quietly through the legal proceedings. Aurtis Whitley was the only willful absentee while Kenwyne Jones, Shaka Hislop, Stern John, Kelvin Jack, Avery John, Cornell Glen, Collin Samuel and Evans Wise all reside abroad. Dave De Peiza and Phillip Lamont represented the players aided by George Hislop, father of the World Cup goalkeeper.
On the other side, Warner was otherwise engaged, his lead attorney William McCormick was "unavoidably absent" QC, TTFF General Secretary Richard Groden was absent without leave—Lalla suggested Groden might have been wandering through the High Court trying to find Room 19 but he never turned up—and Camps sent a message that he was unwell. Lalla could not find an excuse for Camps' attorney, Anabelle Sooklal, who did not turn up either.
"I am not sure why (Sooklal) is not present," he offered.
"Don't you agree that is an affront to the court?" asked Rampersad, in relation to the absences.
Lalla agreed with a nod of the head and promised to "make all attempts" to have them there at the next court date.
There was also a matter of the missing $4.6 million (US$724,000) interim award that should have been paid on October 18, 2011 but, three months later, still had not reached the players. Lalla said he had not "seen the General Secretary".
Lalla was polite, soft-spoken and not prone to theatrics. Yet the complexities of the case—plus the absence of the flamboyant Warner—meant that he was the star attraction. Lalla represents the TTFF (the First Defendant) and Warner (the intended Third Defendant) and, for much of the matter, was also counsel for Camps (the Second Defendant). It is a role that arguably requires a straight face and a measured tongue.
Lalla put forward that the First and Second Defendants are ignorant of the whereabouts of over $180 million (US$23 million) in World Cup related revenue because it was banked in ports unknown by its representative and the intended Third Defendant who repeatedly denied requests to account for the funds. He then, as counsel for the intended Third Defendant, said there was no need for panic as the First and Second Defendants had only to ask for the accounts to be produced and he would happily do so.
Camps' affidavit, filed on August 24, 2011—and the basis for the Warriors' unsuccessful attempt at joining Warner to the case—stated that "I have no information or records for (LOC Germany) as this was (...) under the control of special advisor, Mr Jack Warner. The executive and I have made repeated requests for Mr Warner to provide accounts..." The TTFF, represented by Lalla, concurred that only Warner could testify the whereabouts of millions of football cash.
Lalla then arguably disputed the TTFF claim of "repeated (unanswered) requests" by virtue of his follow up affidavit on Warner's behalf, which declared that the former FIFA Vice President was "prepared to provide to the First Defendant the information and documentation relevant to the taking of the accounts".
Since the aggrieved players requested disclosure rather than payment from Warner, Justice Rampersad accepted that the Government MP had already promised to provide the relevant information and therefore ruled it was unnecessary to join him to the case. But the Judge was growing weary of Lalla's double act as well as his unwillingness to get tough and sue himself—that is, to advise the First Defendant to take legal action against its former Special Advisor.
Justice Rampersad accused the TTFF of sleeping on its responsibility and blasted its "nonchalant and lackadaisical approach" and "contented failure to call for the accounts". He also expressed suspicion at Lalla's presence in the various defense camps as well as the TTFF's inability to substantiate its claims of repeated requests to Warner.
"It is remarkable and quite astounding that, to date, no steps have been taken by the first named defendant to obtain those accounts by compulsion," stated Justice Rampersad, "if, as the second named defendant has deposed, repeated requests have been denied...
"Even more remarkably, both Mr Warner and the first named defendant have retained the same attorneys-at-law to deal with this matter... To me, there is an obvious conflict of interest in circumstances where there exists an order of the court for the provision of accounts and the accounting party throws the blame for failing to fully comply with the order upon its agent—both of whom are represented by the same attorneys—yet takes no assertive steps whatsoever to bring the defaulting party to account...
"Had independent attorneys been secured for the (TTFF), it is likely that a greater sense of urgency may have materialized..."
Justice Rampersad warned that he was mindful of invoking Section 26.1(1)(t) of the Civil Procedures Rules but stopped short of doing so because "for now, that does not arise". He also insisted that he was mindful of "fast approaching" statutory time limits that might make it impossible to initiate legal action against Warner.
Warner has four weeks to fulfill his promise to account for the missing World Cup money, which nearly six years later, remains an unspecified sum. Lalla was advised to ensure that Groden gets proper directions to the court room on February 14, 2012 while Justice Rampersad cautioned that he would take "whatever steps" if Camps and his attorney were absent again.
"I cannot allow that," said Justice Rampersad.
Lalla nodded in agreement and smiled.