Cayman Islands businessman Canover Watson sat on a three-person committee that evaluated bids for a US$15.5 million contract that now forms part of a U.S. criminal investigation into alleged bribery and racketeering in world football’s governing body, FIFA.
The contract, according to U.S. federal court indictments, was for the commercialization rights to the 2013 version of the Gold Cup tournament and the 2013/14 and 2014/15 CONCACAF Champions League competitions. The indictment in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York alleges that the rights to those football games were sold to Traffic USA after then-CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb solicited US$1.1 million in bribe payments from the company, through an intermediary.
A press release announcing the contract award for the tournaments was released on Nov. 27, 2012: “The multi-year agreement was reached after due process from the CONCACAF evaluation committee assigned to this bid comprised of Mr. Pedro Chaluja, Panamanian Football Federation President, Mr. Dan Flynn, general secretary of the U.S. Soccer Federation and Mr. Canover Watson, treasurer of the Cayman Islands Football Association, who evaluated all bids submitted.”
CONCACAF is FIFA’s regional governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean. Webb was elected its president in May 2012 and served until his “provisional dismissal” last week, following revelations that he had been charged with 15 counts in U.S. federal court over a racketeering scheme that spanned 25 years, according to prosecutors. Webb has also been Cayman Islands Football Association President since 1991.
Watson, who is not charged or even named in the U.S. federal court indictment released last week, served as a member of the CONCACAF region’s audit and compliance committee until he was relieved of his duties last year following charges filed against him in a separate Cayman Islands criminal investigation.
The Cayman Compass contacted Watson’s attorney Ben Tonner on Tuesday afternoon for comments about Watson’s membership on the CONCACAF evaluation committee that recommended Traffic USA for the US$15.5 million contract. Neither Mr. Tonner nor Mr. Watson had responded by press time Tuesday.
Watson and Webb have a long association with one another in Cayman. The Compass revealed earlier in the week that the two purchased mansions on the same street in Loganville, Georgia in the U.S. within a year of one another.
According to U.S. federal court records, Webb, in 2012, directed an individual identified as “co-conspirator #4” to seek a bribe payment on his behalf during the negotiations for the Gold Cup 2013 and Champions League 2013-2015 tournaments.
It is alleged that the US$1.1 million bribe payment was agreed to by Traffic USA President Aaron Davidson, who is also charged in the indictment.
“Co-conspirator #4” – who has been identified as CONCACAF general secretary Enrique Sanz – and Webb allegedly discussed “the best way to effectuate the bribe payment,” according to the indictment. Sanz, who is not indicted, was “provisionally banned” from participation in any CONCACAF-related activities on Monday pending the outcome of an investigation by FIFA’s Ethics Committee.
Before joining CONCACAF Sanz worked for Traffic Sports USA.
According to the indictment: “Ultimately, Webb decided to use an overseas company that manufactured soccer uniforms and soccer balls (Soccer Uniform Company A). Webb eventually instructed co-conspirator #4 [Sanz] to submit a false invoice to Traffic USA for US$1.1 million to be paid to Soccer Uniform Company A, which co-conspirator #4 did.”
It is alleged that Traffic USA made wire transfer payments for both the commercialization rights contract and the US$1.1 million bribe payment. It is alleged that in December 2013, the bribe money was wired from Traffic International’s [Traffic USA parent company] account at Delta National Bank & Trust in Miami to a Wells Fargo correspondent account in New York, New York for credit to an account in the name of Soccer Uniform Company A at a Capital Bank in Panama City, Panama.”
Another Webb connection
The soccer uniform company that allegedly received the bribe payment is tied to co-conspirator #23, “a close associate of Webb,” who is described by the indictment, “as a high-ranking official of one of FIFA’s national member associations, an official of FIFA and CFU [Caribbean Football Union], and a businessman.”
Pedro Chaluja, the president of Panama’s football association was another member of the committee that evaluated the bids and awarded the contract to Traffic Sports USA.
In November 2012, two weeks before the contract to Traffic Sports USA was awarded, Jeffrey Webb visited Panama and together with Mr. Chaluja met the country’s president Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal.
Mr. Chaluja was elected to become a member of CONCACAF’s executive committee in April this year.