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The children of Trinidad & Tobago, who recently sat the Secondary Entrance Exam, will, I hope, forgive me for not completing my own Senility Entrance Exam today, as promised, partly because I haven’t got the topics yet, but mainly because I want to defend the Honourable (and as yet un-extradited) Austin “Jack” Warner, Chaguanas West MP, political leader of the ILP and former UNC Cabinet Minister.
Jack, also a former Fifa vice-president and Concacaf president, was on Wednesday indicted by the US Attorney General Loretta Lynch (and Jack himself must love the serendipity of that surname, for hinting at what he thinks is happening to him). He faces seven counts of corruption arising out of, inter alia, the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, where, at 41 degrees Celsius during traditional World Cup months, it’s easier to fry an egg than play football on the pitch.
The world has jumped on Jack like strippers on cash, old friends sprinting from him like sheep fleeing a sinking rat. Before you can say, “Jack Robbing Son,” our Jack might well be out of his fancy blue suit and in a standard prison orange jumpsuit, sharing an American jailhouse-penthouse with his sons, who have both already pleaded guilty in Florida.
We know from recent experience that a Trini attorney general can affect extradition to the USA forcefully—indeed, terminally. In 2011, then Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, exercising the AG’s unreviewable discretion, flatly refused to appeal the decision of Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh not to extradite Steve Ferguson and Ishwar Galbaransingh to the US to face alleged fraud charges arising out of the Piarco Airport construction. (They now face the frighteningly swift and terrifyingly efficient prosecution for which our police and courts are renowned).
Given that the AG can directly affect extradition proceedings by using or declining to use his office’s powers, and given that his actions (e.g., his gratuitous public censure of Assistant DPP Joan Honore-Paul, for doing her job) suggest that our current Attorney General seems to think he is not the legal embodiment of the state, but the legal guard dog of the ruling party, Jack’s extradition warrant might have been signed before the news story broke; the same office which refused to hand over Ish and Steve may have already chucked Jack.
Ironically, for a man who wielded immense power at the highest levels for decades, Jack’s best hope of not making an American jail lies in the possibility that the UNC may not consider him an electoral threat; for, if they do, Jack’s ass is grass and the UNC are the lawnmower: Mr Warner might get a quick hang-Jack in what he might see now was a game of “all foes.”
But even his worst enemies might baulk at how different the extradition of Jack Warner might turn out to be from previous extradition attempts here.
And how Trinidadian a dichotomy it is, that people supporting principle find themselves possibly having to defend a man entirely unbound by it, a pragmatist of the first water, a man who told me, unhesitatingly, in interviews – and these are just two examples of several such statements – that the exchange of personal favours in office was not corruption, but business, and that he saw nothing wrong with awarding the stadium-catering contract for the Fifa Under-17 World Cup held here to his son, Daryan – indeed, he was a trifle irate that his son, proprietor of the short-lived Coal Pot restaurant, should be fiscally penalised for being his son!
So I suggest a possible approach my own former pupil-master, Fyard Hosein, SC, Jack’s lawyer, might take in his defence, which is to deny mens rea. In criminal law, an offence cannot be proven if the accused person has not both committed the required illegal action – the actus reus, e.g., the taking of a life or a bribe – and, at the same time, had the mens rea, or the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing.
It might not be that difficult to prove Jack Warner never formed the mens rea to commit the criminal acts with which he has been charged—or, indeed, any criminal act at all. In a real, perhaps forensically provable way, Jack Warner has never shown or—and this is the crucial thing—genuinely thought—that he was ever doing something wrong.
When, e.g., as Minister of Works, he required US$1 million from the state till to recover a worthless firetruck that had rolled down a hill, a job a Trinidadian wrecking company would have done for US$5K, when he billed the state for, e.g., floodlights and their massive pylons, to do a job that might have been done during daylight, he declared, passionately, that, he would do it again if necessary because “Lives were at stake!” That’s not mens rea at its minimum, that’s altruism at its maximum. When, too, he presided over the distribution of envelopes containing US$40K to Fifa representatives here at the Hyatt Regency, he openly—and, crucially, in his own mind, correctly—stated the envelopes were not bribes, but gifts, you could not find an awareness of doing a wrongful act.
If, however, he should be extradited and convicted, Jack’s legendary generosity to others and self-denial ought to mitigate his sentence. Jack, remember, acted as Minister of Works for the annual salary of just one TT dollar: it would take him six full years to earn the US$1 for which he bought the World Cup television rights, and he only had four years between World Cups, meaning he would owe Fifa almost 33 US cents every World Cup.
No decent court should ever treat such a selfless man harshly.
BC Pires is the watcher in the wouldn’t you know its. Email your Jack the Giant Slayer stories to him at [email protected]
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