Corporate president gets $5M bond in FIFA probe

A U.S. businessman whose company was accused of indirectly funneling US$1.5 million in bribe payments in 2012 to former FIFA Vice President Jeffrey Webb posted a US$5 million bond in an American federal court Friday.  

According to proceedings before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollak in the Eastern District of New York, Aaron Davidson, president of Traffic Sports USA Inc., pleaded not guilty to all nine counts in the indictment. His release on bond was based on several conditions, including that he be made subject to home detention with electronic monitoring.  

Davidson was also ordered not to perform any work for Traffic USA or any Traffic affiliate. He is charged with racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering and money laundering conspiracy.  

The only defendant among 14 in the FIFA bribery and racketeering investigation to face more charges than Davidson is Webb, who was charged in 15 counts. Webb and six other defendants are fighting extradition from Switzerland, where they were arrested last week prior to the commencement of FIFA’s annual meeting.  

In March 2014, during a meeting to discuss Traffic’s ongoing bribe schemes, federal prosecutors allege that Davidson referred to the practice of paying bribes to obtain the commercial rights to world football tournaments: “Is it illegal? It is illegal,” Davidson is quoted as having said. “Within the big picture of things, a company that has worked in this industry for 30 years, is it bad? It is bad.”  

U.S. federal court records allege that during-mid 2012, Webb and an unnamed person identified as “co-conspirator #4” participated in discussions to negotiate the media and marketing rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup qualifier matches. These rights were being sought by Traffic USA, which wanted to buy the rights from the Caribbean Football Association, federal court records state. Co-conspirator #4 was employed by the Traffic Group at the time, but later in the year became the general secretary of CONCACAF.  

Near the end of these talks, co-conspirator #4 met with another defendant, Costas Takkas, identified as a close associate of Webb’s. “Takkas told co-conspirator #4 that Webb wanted a US$3 million bribe in exchange for the [football union] contract to be awarded to Traffic USA,” the court records state.  

It is further alleged that the bribe was split between two companies, Traffic USA and another company referred to in the indictment as “Sports Marketing Company C,” so that each would pay US$1.5 million to Webb. It is further alleged that Traffic USA’s payment was transmitted to Takkas through a Miami bank to an HSBC bank in Buffalo, New York, and eventually transferred to an HSBC account in Hong Kong.  

The indictment alleges that two wire transfers totaling US$1 million were sent from Hong Kong to a correspondent account in New York City for credit to an account in the name of Kosson Ventures – a company controlled by Takkas – at Fidelity Bank in the Cayman Islands.  

The records state that the remaining US$500,000 bribe money paid by Traffic USA was put into another account controlled by Takkas at Fidelity Bank in the Cayman Islands.  

“Takkas subsequently transferred the funds to an account in the name of a swimming pool builder at United Community Bank in Blairsville, Georgia,” the criminal complaint reads. “[This was] for the benefit of the defendant Jeffrey Webb, who was having a pool built at his residence in Loganville, Georgia. Takkas transferred another portion of the funds directly from his Kosson Ventures account at Fidelity Bank in the Cayman Islands to SunTrust Bank in Georgia for Webb’s benefit in connection with Webb’s purchase of other real estate in Stone Mountain, Georgia.”  

It was unclear from the indictment whether Webb ever received the other half of the alleged bribe money from “Sports Marketing Company C.”