Today's news of the US Department of Justice coming after FIFA's decades-long corruption pyramid delighted me. Not because I've spent the bulk of my career working on the anti-corruption agenda. But because alleged lawyers for Jack Warner, one of those indicted, harassed us a few years ago at Global Integrity. We ignored the threats and they went away. But today's news tickled me no less.
What happened? Global Integrity published a national anti-corruption assessment of Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) in 2012 (covering 2011). As with all countries covered, we worked with local researchers to score more than 320 Integrity Indicators assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the country's public sector anti-corruption framework. We also commissioned a local journalist to prepare a Reporter's Notebook telling a story of how corruption issues manifested themselves in everyday life in the country. Our reporter in T&T chose to prepare a summary of the long-running scandals surrounding Jack Warner, a senior political figure in T&T who also happened to be a former FIFA Vice President. The reporting was a decent summary of previously-reported news but didn't break any new ground.
More than a year later, as the heat was being turned up on Warner internationally (FIFA and law enforcement were both looking into his role in awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar), I received this email, out of the blue, from an alleged attorney in T&T. As you'll read, the attorney threatened us with legal action unless we took down the 2011 Reporter's Notebook that focused on Warner.
We didn't. Instead, I had a fascinating back and forth (captured in this second string of emails) with the alleged attorney, asking him or her to confirm explicitly who the client was (whether Warner or someone else). They refused to name their client. We left the story up.
A final email eventually arrived (the best of the bunch, in my view), alleging that a lawsuit against us had been filed locally in T&T. As with the other threats, we ignored this and ultimately never heard from the ostensible attorney again.
While this was a relatively easy situation to handle -- it was painfully clear from the writing in the emails that these threats were not originating from an actual attorney anywhere -- it serves as a helpful reminder for why libel tourism remains a scary, pressing issue in many countries, and why take down requests matter beyond pirated movies and music. The rule of law can be a fearsome thing when hijacked for nefarious purposes.