Jack Warner, a Fifa vice-president, has been found guilty of violating Fifa's own code of ethics because of his involvement in selling World Cup tickets, football's world governing body announced last night.
The case, unprecedented in Fifa's history, arose amid allegations of cronyism and profiteering by officials. Warner, who is also the head of Concafaf and a special adviser to the Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation, faces potential sanctions that might include his removal from office.
As The Independent reported last month, Warner became the centre of a ticketing scandal in Trinidad after his family's travel agency, Simpaul's, secured exclusive rights to sell Trinidad & Tobago's entire ticket allocation for this summer's World Cup. Neither Simpaul's nor the TTFF would provide any information on potential profits but it was estimated that Warner could make millions.
Fifa's committee for ethics and fair play met in Zurich on Wednesday evening to consider the matter and Fifa announced last night that Warner had been found guilty of a conflict of interest. "As a result, he has violated Fifa's Code of Ethics," a Fifa statement said. It added that Fifa's executive committee "will now discuss the matter on 16-17 March". Any sanctions will be imposed after that meeting.
Warner was unavailable for comment last night but is expected to launch a robust defence of his position. A TTFF spokesman said: "We have nothing to say at this time."
Trinidad & Tobago are grouped along with England, Sweden and Paraguay in the opening phase. The TTFF has been allocated 10,769 seats for its three group games combined. Simpaul's "travel packages" cost £2,720 and included tickets to each game, and hotel accommodation, but not flights nor any transport. It was estimated that Simpaul's could make more than £1,600 in profit per package.
Both Warner and Simpaul's have been inconsistent on their involvement in ticket sales. Initial adverts by the firm ran under the slogan "Ticket or leave it", telling supporters they would need to buy via Simpaul's to secure seats in Germany. Warner attempted to defend his apparent conflict of interests by arguing that "it is not a crime to be successful [in business], even for people like me."
He later claimed that Simpaul's, which he owns in partnership with his wife and sons, was not actually selling TTFF tickets at all, although he had admitted that Simpaul's paid TTFF $500,000 local currency (£45,000) to be its official World Cup package provider.
Before a media blackout on the issue, spokespeople for both Simpaul's and the TTFF told The Independent that Simpaul's was selling TTFF tickets.
Warner has muddied the waters further by saying that Simpaul's spent £400,000 between July and September last year on World Cup packages from a "European counterpart". He has not named this counterpart, despite requests to do so, but under Fifa's ticketing rules, it is not permissible for tickets to be sold on like this anyway.
It is not known whether Fifa's ethics committee considered only Warner's conflict of interest in owning a travel agency involved with TTFF, or two separate issues, one relating to Simpaul's original monopoly, and the other concerning Warner's claims about Simpaul's dealing in third-party tickets via Europe.
Fifa announced last month that Ernst & Young had been appointed as independent auditors of the whole ticketing process, including "internal examination of potential conflicts of interest in relation to any ticketing constituent groups."
Warner's business activities have apparently conflicted with his Fifa duties before - when he obtained Caribbean TV rights to the World Cup for a pittance and then sold them to broadcasters at a huge profit - but has never before faced sanctions.Reuse content