Sidebar

22
Fri, Jan

‘Fifa has been compromised [in Home of Football scandal]!’ Spicy letter that predates Fifa take-over.
Typography

“A cursory glance of the paper trail suggests that there was a lack of proper oversight [on the Home of Football],” stated Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) general secretary Ramesh Ramdhan, in a letter to Fifa chief member association, Veron Mosengo-Omba on 22 January 2020.

“The president of the TTFA [David John-Williams] appears to have been the project manager, the contractor as well as the purchaser…”

The aforementioned excerpt forms part of an exchange between Ramdhan and Mosengo-Omba. It was issued in response to a letter from the Fifa official, while Fifa stalled on paying its annual subvention of US$1.2 million (TT$8 million) to the TTFA for operations.

It also predated the world governing body’s decision to send a joint fact-finding mission of Concacaf and Fifa officials to the island in February.

On Tuesday, Fifa, supposedly on the advice of the team that visited Trinidad last month, announced it would send a normalisation committee to the twin island republic and effectively nullified last November’s election and booted the Board—including president William Wallace—out of office.

Mosengo-Omba, a DR Congo national, personally informed controversial TTFA finance manager Tyril Patrick that Fifa had just put him in charge of local football.

“As was mentioned in the decision [by the Fifa Council], you will assume immediate interim responsibility, in collaboration with Fifa,” he told Patrick, “for all TTFA matters until the normalisation committee members are appointed.

“Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this respect and looking forward to meeting you soon.”

Two months before Fifa sent the TTFA into meltdown, Mosengo-Omba, who had direct oversight of the Home of Football project—partly funded by Fifa—wrote Ramdhan to enquire about the William Wallace-led administration’s plans to deal with its significant debts.

“In light of the significant amount of outstanding debts the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) has had in the past with third party suppliers,” Mosengo-Omba told Ramdhan, on 13 January, “the FIFA administration would like to follow up on the current status of those debts. It is important to highlight that assets financed by the FIFA Forward Programme cannot be, under any circumstances, mortgaged.

“The FIFA Member Associations Division is fully committed and available to support your member association in every necessary aspect in order to achieve positive outcome.”

In the build-up to last November’s local football election, Mosengo-Omba allegedly told three board members—according to one member of that trio, who spoke on condition of anonymity—that Fifa would not support the TTFA if then president David John-Williams was voted out of office.

Another board member and technical committee chairman Keith Look Loy, who was an influential figure in Wallace’s successful campaign, also complained that the Congolese repeatedly ignored pleas to investigate alleged financial mismanagement of the project.

And, in Ramdhan’s response to the Fifa official, he made his feelings clear that the world governing body—and Mosengo-Omba in particular—lacked the moral authority to lecture the TTFA on the matter of debts or the fate of the Home of Football.

“The HOF project which is at the centre of this conversation was intended to bring an end to our financial woes, which had plagued the TTFA for over a decade,” stated Ramdhan. “It is now ironic that, in 2020, it has become the source of our financial distress.

“[…] I knew you were a central figure during the construction phase of this project. I can also appreciate that the responsibility entrusted upon you in facilitating the process may have fallen outside the core area of competency required for such a project.

“It is now incumbent upon Fifa, given this experience, to review the processes employed in their Forward Project programs in order to avoid reoccurrence of this nature which can compromise Fifa. I am of the view that Fifa has indeed been compromised in this scenario.”

Having identified the high-ranking Fifa official as ‘a central figure’ operating ‘outside [his] core area of competency’ in what could prove to be a financial scandal, Ramdhan went further by suggesting that the TTFA intended to not only investigate the Home of Football but also make their findings public.

“Based on what we have discovered during the recent visit of the [Fifa] development manager (DM) and the assistant development manager (ADM) in the presence of the TTFA financial manager,” stated Ramdhan, “the manner in which the project was being managed should have raised red flags.

“Given the revelations, it is curious and even suspicious that the project continued uninterrupted. This has attracted speculation from several quarters of the society which has the potential of further damaging our already tainted image both locally and abroad.

“[…] The current administration is in the process of engaging a quantity surveyor with a view to achieving two objectives. The first objective is to produce a professional report and make public the findings, so as to avoid speculation of vindictiveness on the part of the current administration.

“The second objective, which is of paramount importance, is to address all the issues with a view to resolving them and operationalise the building.”

A day later, on 23 January, Ramdhan wrote Mosengo-Omba again; and, this time, he addressed the initial query of the Fifa official.

“Consequent to my previous letter of 22 January, I wish to further advise that Fifa Forward funding will not be used to satisfy any third party debts,” stated the TTFA general secretary. “It is our stated objective to use funds intended for development in those specific areas. We intend to avoid the pitfalls of the past where moneys were used contrary to purpose.

“The current administration has a plan to deal with the debts inherited and we intend to meet and discuss this with our creditors… We have already signed a memorandum of understanding with a foreign company for a project in Trinidad that would factor in a debt of TT$50 million incorporated in the overall cost of the project to satisfy the debt.

“[…] I do hope that this information will serve to address any concerns which Fifa may have and bring some level of comfort as I can discern some unease about our debt situation.

“Rest assured we are up to the task of rebuilding our administration and restoring our image and look forward to cooperating with Fifa to achieve our collective objectives.”

Mosengo-Omba did not respond to either email.

Ramdhan said he was justified in the statements made to the Fifa official, since he was only replying to Mosengo-Omba’s letter and also fulfilling Wallace’s campaign promise of transparent governance.

“We had to [investigate the Home of Football and make our findings public] because we campaigned on being open and transparent,” said Ramdhan, who was a part of Wallace’s United TTFA slate, “especially as I wrote to Fifa before [in 2019] and they never took me on. And what we discovered was frightening to say the least…”

By then, Wallace’s administration had been in office for roughly two months and not received any of the Fifa subvention that was due. A cursory check, according to Ramdhan, revealed that other associations had already been wired money from the global body’s Zurich headquarters.

After a couple of enquiring phone calls, Ramdhan said he was put on to Stacey Daniel, who is a manager in the Fifa Finance Department.

“She told me we would get it [by the end of January] but we didn’t,” Ramdhan told Wired688. “So I asked who was above her that could explain what was going on. And that was when I was put back on to Veron.”

It took three days for Wallace to get Mosengo-Omba on the phone and, then, his response was supposedly that Fifa would send a team to Trinidad to investigate its finances; and they would ask Concacaf to fund the TTFA until that was completed.

Ramdhan was frustrated.

“Fifa should have investigated what I sent to them [about John-Williams and the Home of Football],” he said, “not our administration.”

The TTFA is due US$150,000 (TT$1 million) annually from Concacaf for football development. Based on money from Concacaf, the local football body was able to send the Women’s National Under-20 Team on a two week pre-tournament tour in the Dominican Republic.

The team, coached by Richard Hood, went on to finish as quarterfinalists at the Women’s Concacaf Under-20 Championship.

In February, Fifa finance coordinator Mehmet Dirlik, Concacaf finance manager Alejandro Kesende, Concacaf finance department Dally Fuentes and Valeria Yepes, an independent auditor visited Trinidad to speak with local officials, including Wallace, Ramdhan and TTFA finance committee chairman Kendall Tull.

If the new TTFA administration had any information regarding spending at the Home of Football that Mosengo-Omba might have missed, the joint-Fifa and Concacaf team would surely have been apprised of it.

Wallace, Ramdhan and Tull felt the meetings went well and the foreign contingent allegedly vowed that Fifa would turn on its financial tap shortly. But that never happened.

In the interim, Wallace held a press conference on 4 March, in which he pointed to the financial mismanagement of the association by John-Williams, aided by his finance manager, Patrick—who was still a TTFA employee.

Tull, according to a source, advised against the press conference and, in particular, the revelations concerning over TT$4 million due for PAYE, BIR and health surcharge payments.

Again, Ramdhan said Wallace’s decision to speak up was in keeping with their mantra of ‘transparency’.

On 7 March, the TTFA board met and passed a motion to investigate the perceived financial mismanagement of the John-Williams-led administration. The probe would have included spending on the Home of Football project, which was supervised by Mosengo-Omba.

The first order of business was to be the suspension of Patrick, who, members felt, could not operate as finance manager while being investigated.

Wallace was asked to get a legal letter to that effect, which would be issued to Patrick. However, the president stalled as he wanted to get a replacement for his finance officer first. And, even then, Wallace felt Patrick should be given time to ‘hand over responsibilities’ to his successor.

Ten days after that meeting, with Patrick still in place and no replacement identified, Fifa took the atomic option of firing the entire TTFA board under article 8.2 of its statutes, which states:

‘Executive bodies of member associations may under exceptional circumstances be removed from office by the Council in consultation with the relevant confederation and replaced by a normalisation committee for a specific period of time.’

Fifa, in a missive on its website, stated that its decision: ‘follows the recent FIFA/Concacaf fact-finding mission to Trinidad and Tobago to assess, together with an independent auditor, the financial situation of TTFA [which] found that extremely low overall financial management methods, combined with a massive debt, have resulted in the TTFA facing a very real risk of insolvency and illiquidity. Such a situation is putting at risk the organisation and development of football in the country and corrective measures need to be applied urgently.’

Ramdhan believed that Fifa was always going to be hostile to the current TTFA administration, whether he crossed swords with Mosengo-Omba or not.

“I think they were always looking to do this,” he said. “And even when I wrote those letters, they didn’t even have the courtesy to reply to me or the TTFA. So I don’t think those letters played a part in this.”

Mosengo-Omba might be having the last laugh now. However, the TTFA has announced its intention to appeal Fifa’s decision, through attorneys Dr Emir Crowne and Matthew Gayle of New City Chambers.

If the allegations made in Ramdhan’s letter to Mosengo-Omba bare any truth, the TTFA’s promised investigation could have had dire implications for Fifa’s image under current president Gianni Infantino.

Ironically, if there is financial misconduct at the Home of Football—Look Loy suggested last year that TT$16 million unaccounted for from the project—then there is only one man with as much to lose as as John-Williams and Mosengo-Omba.

And that is Patrick, the person who Fifa has now put in charge of the TTFA.

(Letter from Fifa to TTFA on 13 January 2020)

Dear General Secretary,

In light of the significant amount of outstanding debts the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) has had in the past with third party suppliers, the FIFA administration would like to follow up on the current status of those debts.

It is important to highlight that assets financed by the FIFA Forward Programme cannot be, under any circumstances, mortgaged.

The FIFA Member Associations Division is fully committed and available to support your Member Association in every necessary aspect in order to achieve positive outcome.

Yours sincerely

Veron Mosengo-Omba,

Chief Member Associations Officer

(Letter for TTFA to Fifa on 22 January 2020)

Dear Mr Mosengo-Omba,

I thank you for your email of Monday 13 January. Your advice regarding the Home of Football (HOF) is duly noted. The new administration is fully aware of all the implications involved as we pursue the solutions to the problems we inherited. The significant debt you mentioned pose serious challenges for the TTFA and your offer to assist gives us hope.

During the visit of the Development Manager (DM) last week, as we perused the financial records of the TTFA, we discovered that funds intended for other areas were diverted to the HOF project resulting in the failure of the TTFA to meet its day to day financial obligations. Chief amongst them was the inability to pay the salaries of staff for the Christmas.

Presently, the outstanding balance owed in relation to the HOF to date is approximately TT$2 million. The amount of confirmed debt is TT$33,782,826.31, other payables are TT$15,211,861.50. Attached for your information and yet to be determined [is] TT$25 million, which represents two batters which are before the courts re: Jack Warner and Sheldon Phillips. These figures can change dramatically based on the current trend.

The HOF project which is at the centre of this conversation was intended to bring an end to our financial woes, which had plagued the TTFA for over a decade. It is now ironic that, in 2020, it has become the source of our financial distress.

A project which was opened with a lot of fanfare is now faced with issues which required additional funding to resolve. These issues vary from design and construction to safety and lack of the requisite approvals from agencies. This situation denies the TTFA the opportunity to benefit from such a significant investment.

I knew you were a central figure during the construction phase of this project. I can also appreciate that the responsibility entrusted upon you in facilitating the process may have fallen outside the core area of competency required for such a project.

It is now incumbent upon Fifa, given this experience, to review the processes employed in their Forward Project programs in order to avoid reoccurrence of this nature which can compromise Fifa. I am of the view that Fifa has indeed been compromised in this scenario.

Having said that, based on what we have discovered during the recent visit of the Development Manager (DM) and the Assistant Development Manager (ADM) in the presence of the TTFA Financial Manager, the manner in which the project was being managed should have raised red flags.

Given the revelations, it is curious and even suspicious that the project continued uninterrupted. This has attracted speculation from several quarters of the society which has the potential of further damaging our already tainted image both locally and abroad.

A cursory glance of the paper trail suggests that there was a lack of proper oversight. The president of the TTFA appears to have been the project manager, the contractor as well as the purchaser.

The current administration is in the process of engaging a quantity surveyor with a view to achieving two objectives. The first objective is to produce a professional report and make public the findings so as to avoid speculation of vindictiveness on the part of the current administration.

The second objective, which is of paramount importance, is to address all the issues with a view to resolving them and operationalise the building.

As we peruse the financial records of the TTFA, our preliminary findings suggest a lack of financial prudence on the part of the last administration. As a consequence, we have taken a decision to engage a forensic auditor to determine if any financial impropriety occurred as we are not prepared to carry that burden forward as we seek to reshape the association.

Yours sincerely,

Ramesh Ramdhan,

TTFA general secretary

(Letter from TTFA to Fifa on 23 January 2020)

Consequent to my previous letter of 22 January, I wish to further advise that Fifa Forward funding will not be used to satisfy any third party debts. It is our stated objective to use funds intended for development in those specific areas. We intend to avoid the pitfalls of the past where moneys were used contrary to purpose.

The current administration has a plan to deal with the debts inherited and we intend to meet and discuss this with our creditors. It is our intention to acknowledge the debts and, if necessary, give letters of comfort to avoid the courts of Trinidad and Tobago.

We have already signed a memorandum of understanding with a foreign company for a project in Trinidad that would factor in a debt of TT$50 million incorporated in the overall cost of the project to satisfy the debt. Officials of the said company will be visiting Trinidad in a couple weeks to discuss the public private partnership with the government of Trinidad and Tobago.

I do hope that this information will serve to address any concerns which Fifa may have and bring some level of comfort as I can discern some unease about our debt situation.

Rest assured we are up to the task of rebuilding our administration and restoring our image and look forward to cooperating with Fifa to achieve our collective objectives.

Yours sincerely,

Ramesh Ramdhan,

TTFA general secretary

Editor’s Note: Wired868 asked Fifa official Veron Mosengo-Omba a series of questions related to the announced normalisation committee and the Home of Football, including whether he noticed any financial irregularities in the project, why he had not recused himself from issues involving the TTFA due to a potential conflict of interest, and why Fifa decided to put TTFA’s finance manager in charge despite basing its decision to intervene on the football body’s supposedly catastrophic financial set-up.

He had not responded up to the time of publication.