Football firm linked to FIFA probe, Watson court case

A Pakistan-based football products manufacturing company has been linked in legal documents to the ongoing FIFA corruption and bribery probe in the United States.

The company may also be linked to local businessman and convicted fraudster Canover Watson, based on statements in a recently ended criminal trial.

According to a December lawsuit filed against California travel broker Cartan Tours and its principals by FIFA subsidiary CONCACAF, a company named Forward Sports has been implicated in U.S. District Court in connection with the FIFA racketeering indictment issued May 2015 against Cayman’s Jeffrey Webb and others.

Criminal charges in the U.S. indictment, which Webb pleaded guilty to in November 2015, allege that a number of officials from world football’s governing body, FIFA, accepted millions in bribes in exchange for the award of football tournament commercial rights to sports marketing companies.

Statements in a Cayman Islands criminal court case against Watson, which ended last week in his conviction for fraud, noted that a company named Forward Sports International was registered in Cayman with an address at Watson’s former place of business, Admiral Administration. Prosecutors did not expressly state during the trial whether the Cayman-registered company was the same entity as Forward Sports.

The Cayman Compass contacted representatives of Forward Sports in Germany in January, but received no response to questions regarding the FIFA indictment or the California lawsuit. Questions sent to Watson’s attorneys regarding the Cartan lawsuit and the FIFA indictment in December and again last week went unanswered.

The California lawsuit alleges that Forward Sports is implicated in the May 2015 U.S. criminal indictment and a superseding indictment released on Dec. 3, 2015 as “possessing Panamanian bank accounts used to effectuate several bribe payments received by Webb.”

The FIFA indictment alleged that, in attempting to conceal a US$1.1 million bribe for the award of CONCACAF’s 2012 Gold Cup/Champions League marketing contracts to a U.S. company, Webb used an overseas company that manufactured soccer uniforms and soccer balls – identified only as “Soccer Uniform Company A” in the indictment. Soccer Uniform Company A has a bank account in Panama City, Panama, according to the indictment.

Forward Sports is the manufacturer of the “Brazuca” football used in the 2014 World Cup matches.

The FIFA indictment further makes reference to “Co-conspirator #24” – a close associate of Webb’s – who “had a connection to Soccer Uniform Company A.”

Co-conspirator #24 is identified in the indictment as a high-ranking official of one of FIFA’s national member associations, also an official with FIFA and the Caribbean Football Union and a “businessman.”

It was revealed during Watson’s trial that a company named Forward Sports International was registered in the Cayman Islands and maintained an address at the former Admiral Administration building in downtown George Town. Watson is the former managing director of Admiral, which rebranded and changed its name last year.

The registered director of Forward Sports International was Caymanian Joscelyn Morgan, according to Crown prosecutors. Mr. Morgan left the Cayman Islands in 2014 and has not returned. He is wanted for questioning by police in connection with an investigation into another Cayman company – Advanced Integrated Systems Cayman Ltd. – which prosecutors allege was a front for Watson and Webb’s interests in a Cayman Islands public healthcare contract. Watson and Webb were accused of jointly siphoning millions of dollars from that agreement, known as the CarePay contract.

In the CarePay case, it was alleged that Mr. Morgan and another close Webb associate, Eldon Rankin, were used as “sham” frontmen to cover up the involvement of Webb and Watson in AIS Cayman. Prosecutors noted that other companies, including Forward Sports International, were registered at the former Admiral building under Mr. Morgan’s name as the director.

Compass journalist Michael Klein contributed to this story.