Fifa crisis: Defiant Jack Warner says 'Mandela and Gandhi made jail too'

Jack Warner waving Image copyright Reuters

The former vice president of Fifa is facing extradition to the US after his arrest on corruption charges. But the man alleged to be at the heart of global football's biggest scandal remains defiant.

Jack Warner is not short on self-confidence.

Hours after his release on bail from a Trinidad jail cell, the former Fifa executive-turned-politician, is standing under a gazebo addressing a rally of around 200 supporters from his Independent Liberal Party.

Dressed in a lime green party uniform and wearing a cap, he's beaming - almost bragging - about his short time behind bars.

"Nelson Mandela made jail. Gandhi made jail. Castro made jail. So who's Jack Warner?"

To many of his loyal followers, who are crammed under the tent in the humid Caribbean heat, Jack Warner deserves a place in history alongside those names.

They see him as a man who's helped put this picturesque island on the global map, largely by helping them become the smallest country to qualify for a World Cup.

But he may go down in history for other reasons. Jack Warner is facing multiple charges relating to corruption and money laundering during his three-decade tenure at Fifa.

"I, Jack Warner, know nothing about these charges," he tells the crowd, as they erupt into cheers and whistles, some waving flags.

The US charges against Jack Warner

  • Racketeering conspiracy (Count 1)
  • Wire fraud conspiracy - CFU World Cup Qualifiers Scheme #1 (Count 9)
  • Wire fraud - CFU World Cup Qualifiers Scheme #1 (Count 10)
  • Wire fraud - CFU World Cup Qualifiers Scheme #1 (Count 11)
  • Money laundering conspiracy - CFU World Cup Qualifiers Scheme #1 (Count 12)
  • Money laundering - CFU World Cup Qualifiers Scheme #1 (Count 13)
  • Wire fraud conspiracy - 2011 Fifa Presidential Election Scheme (Count 23)
  • Money laundering conspiracy - 2011 Fifa Presidential Election Scheme (Count 24)

Here in Trinidad, Warner's hero-like status as one of the country's most famous exports, has given him an aura of invincibility to many.

During the rally supporters sang a song dedicated to him over a soundtrack of the island's most famous instrument, the steel pan.

"Jack is the man, the man with a plan."

"Jack is the only leader..."

It's not every day you see a politician, let alone one who's facing extradition proceedings brought by the FBI, so relaxed and at ease.

Image copyright Reuters

But Jack Warner clapped his hands and sang along, hugging and embracing many of them. At one point he was serenaded by a saxophonist while the crowd linked arms to the song, 'You Raise Me Up'.

A sense of relief, as well as a good helping of Trinidadian party spirit may have been what inspired this slightly bizarre, yet highly entertaining act of defiance.

When I spoke to him afterwards he denied all the charges against him, calling on the FBI to provide more evidence. He told me he was the one who pushed for what he called "regime change" while he was Fifa's Vice-president, and said repeatedly that he had never in his life accepted a bribe.

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Media caption"I never accepted a bribe," Jack Warner tells the BBC

Warner believes discrimination against developing nations is at play, and questions why newly re-elected Fifa President Sepp Blatter, wasn't included on the charge sheet.

"If I'm corrupt that means he's corrupt. Why are they only charging third world countries? If what they say it true why haven't they [charged him]?"

"He's universally disliked and discredited, and yet they haven't touched him. Why?"

Hanging pride of place in Jack Warner's office is a photo of him with President Obama. While he has no bad words to say about Mr Obama, he has plenty of grievances against the United States, believing the FBI was motivated by a personal vendetta against him after the US lost out to Qatar in the race to host the 2022 World Cup.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Meeting with the great and the good: Warner with Pele, Nelson Mandela and Samuel Eto
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Warner with Sepp Blatter in 2007 - but Warner backed a rival candidate for Fifa president ahead of the 2011 vote.

Warner is no stranger to claims of corruption, some here on the island question his rise to the top. Officials have been investigating his actions for several years.

He resigned from Fifa's executive committee in 2011, amid allegations he had bribed Caribbean associates. At the time he said he had been "hung out to dry", insisting that the giving of gifts had been part of Fifa culture during his 30 years in the organisation.

I asked him what the difference is between a gift and a bribe.

"A bribe is when you give something and expect something in return," he explained to me. "A gift is when you give something from the kindness of your heart or benevolence."

Just 24 hours earlier Jack Warner spent the night in jail, while he waited to post bail. On Thursday, as he remained behind bars, some of his most fervent supporters gathered outside - some going as far as calling for the US embassy to be shut down over Mr Warner's arrest.

Warner's sons

  • On 15 July 2013, Daryll Warner pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud and the structuring of financial transactions, according to the US Department of Justice indictment
  • Reuters reported in 2013 that Daryll Warner became a co-operative witness in the investigation
  • On 25 October 2013, Daryan Warner pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and the structuring of financial transactions

For several hours reporters waited in the rain outside the green metal gates at the Frederick Jail for Mr Warner to emerge. The entrance was heavily fortified with armed police who told us Mr Warner would emerge from the front door.

A cast of lawyers went in and out of the jail, carrying briefcases as the bail of 2.5m Trinidad and Tobago Dollars ($393,600; £257,400) was secured.

And then at 1700 local time (2200 BST), as the skies finally cleared, we heard a rumour from his supporters that he was to leave in an ambulance.

Image copyright Reuters

A grey ambulance sped past us, with blacked out windows. A justice of the peace told the gathered scrum of reporters, that the occupant of the van, was indeed Mr Warner. He'd been suffering from exhaustion and was being taken to hospital, he said.

Was he getting preferential treatment, I asked? He declined to answer.

But only a few hours later, the man at the centre of one of football's biggest scandals, was fighting fit as he celebrated with supporters.

At the end of the night he took to the microphone for his own rendition of Bob Marley's Every Little Thing's Gonna be Alright.

This self-assured politician thinks it will be - but a court appearance in July is the next step in deciding whether the 72-year-old politician will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Video filmed and edited by the BBC's Peter Murtaugh. Watch the full interview here.