Suriname vice president scandal, beyond the imagination of any Hollywood screenwriter, puts CONCACAF in the world’s spotlight

Ronnie Brunswijk, one of Inter’s players, as well as its owner and vice-president of the country, was seen handing out money in the dressing room of Olimpia of Honduras, who had won 6-0.

Video footage shows vice-president Ronnie Brunswijk handing money to Olimpia players after the match.
Video footage shows vice-president Ronnie Brunswijk handing money to Olimpia players after the match.

What happens in the Concacaf League, the second most important club-level tournament in North, Central America and the Caribbean, does not usually transcend beyond the region, although from time to time there are exceptions: none, however, of the caliber of the scandal involving the vice-president of Suriname.

Concacaf (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football), one of FIFA’s six confederations, announced this weekend the disqualification of Inter Moengotapoe of Suriname and Olimpia of Honduras following a match in Paramaribo in which Ronnie Brunswijk, one of Inter’s players, was seen handing out money in the dressing room of the Hondurans, who had won 6-0.

Brunswijk, 60, is president and owner of Inter and played 55 minutes of the match. He is also the vice-president of Suriname, and on the night of the match he was in charge of the presidency due to a trip by the president.

In a statement, Concacaf said both clubs were expelled with “immediate effect” and that Brunswijk is banned from participating in any official Concacaf competition for three years. After studying the video that revealed the events and considering written statements provided by both clubs, Concacaf concluded that there were serious violations of the integrity rules after the match.

“As a consequence of these rule violations, both clubs have been disqualified and removed from this year’s CONCACAF League with immediate effect. In addition, the Committee has ruled that Mr. Ronnie Brunswijk is banned for three years from participating in any CONCACAF competition”.

The investigation will continue and others could be sanctioned, added the confederation chaired by Canadian Victor Montagliani.

What is certain is that few Hollywood screenwriters would have dared so much. Although located in South America, Suriname does not compete in international tournaments in that region.

No one imagined that the night of the match would turn into a rocky evening, which began with Brunswijk on the pitch in his 60th year as a striker, with the number 61 on his jersey as a symbol of the year he was born, and the captain’s armband.

At the time Brunswijk was the acting president of Suriname, as President Chan Santokhi was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

The players had approved Brunswijk’s request to take part in the match for fifteen minutes, but in the end he did so for 55 in the stadium that bears his name. In doing so, he became the oldest player (60 years and 198 days) to play in an official international match and did so with one of his many sons, Damien, number 10, as his companion up front.

According to a “New York Times” profile, Brunswijk has been “an elite paratrooper, a soccer player, a wanted bank robber, a guerrilla leader, a gold baron and the father of at least 50 children during his lifetime.”

“His mother has said he has so many offspring that unknown people sometimes ask to hug her, claiming to be her grandchildren,” the publication wrote.

File photo of Ronnie Brunswijk, president of the Inter Moengo Tapoe club and vice president of Suriname. Paramaribo, Suriname. July 13, 2020.
REUTERS/Ranu Abhelakh
File photo of Ronnie Brunswijk, president of the Inter Moengo Tapoe club and vice president of Suriname. Paramaribo, Suriname. July 13, 2020. REUTERS/Ranu Abhelakh

Brunswijk is an influential businessman, owns a private island in the Marowijne River, has six gold mines and since July 2020 has been vice president of Suriname. He founded and led the rebel group Jungle Command, which sought to liberate the country from military dictatorship, during the so-called Interior War in the late 1980s.

Brunswijk became one of Suriname’s first 12 paratroopers and was sent for military training to Cuba, according to the NYT.

In 1999 a Dutch court charged him with drug trafficking and sentenced him in absentia to eight years in prison. Since Suriname does not extradite its citizens, Brunswijk remained at large. In France he is also threatened with imprisonment on a similar charge, while in Suriname he was prosecuted for an alleged bank robbery during the Internal War. 

Brunswijk denied his guilt in all cases and has said that he acquired his wealth through the gold trade. He is also reportedly known by the nickname “Robin Hood”.

In November 2005 he was suspended for five years for threatening the president of a soccer club with a gun during a match, but the sanction was withdrawn “for lack of evidence”.

In June 2012 he was suspended for a year for acting violently towards a referee and a player.

After the match on Tuesday, September 21, a shirtless Brunswijk showed up in the Honduran locker room to hand over cash to Olimpia players, as seen in a video, which went viral to the point of being seen by Concacaf’s officials, which immediately called for an investigation.

In his account to local media “Starnieuws”, Brunswijk downplayed his gesture to the visitors.

“I think the Honduran club played great soccer, and as the senior player I rewarded the members,” he said.

He clarified that he had consulted with an official in charge of the group and that the latter agreed.

“I gave each player $100 through him. There were 33 people involved,” he explained. Brunswijk said last week that Concacaf was free to conduct the investigation.

“Because of Covid we have not been able to hold any matches for almost a year and a half and I am grateful that Olimpia wanted to come to Suriname. I have shown my gratitude and I do. I don’t know who filmed the video and posted it on social media,” said the club owner.

Ronnie Brunswijk in action during the match
Ronnie Brunswijk in action during the match

The media outlet writes that after the Honduran coach received the $3,300, a player shouted that he had scored two goals and Brunswijk rewarded him, as well as the goalkeeper, with $200 for not allowing goals.

“I see nothing wrong with showing my gratitude in this way,” said Brunswijk, who added that he could have played the entire game, but decided to come off minutes into the second half.

The Olimpia players returned home without giving statements to the press. The club’s board of directors, in a statement, expressed having taken the applicable measures of the case “to guarantee the integrity of their actions”.

One of those measures appears to be the hiring of a Costa Rican lawyer, Aquiles Mata, to represent them in the defense of the controversial case.

“The incidents that took place in our club’s dressing room after the September 21 match against Inter Moengotapoe in Suriname were undoubtedly a mistake,” Olimpia said in an official statement.

“In our institution we accept that mistakes were made by some of our members that night, which do not represent the values and principles of the club,” the statement added.

The club announced that the money received by the players “will be donated this week to the Honduran Foundation for Children with Cancer” in Tegucigalpa.

Osman Madrid, head of the Central American team, said he did not authorize nor was he involved in the actions in the locker room, nor did the Argentine technical director Pedro Troglio, outside the dressing room at the time.

What happened in Paramaribo reached worldwide repercussions because of the video broadcast. “If Brunswijk had been born in the United States, he would already have a great movie made in Hollywood”, wrote “La Voz de Galicia”.