Details of cooperation agreements between three key defendants in the ongoing FIFA corruption investigation, including a deal struck with Cayman’s Jeffrey Webb, are being sought by a U.S.-based news organization which filed a formal request with the federal court for those records earlier this month.
Lawyers for Bloomberg News Service wrote to U.S. District Court Judge Raymond Dearie on March 24 requesting that the court unseal (make public) transcripts from a plea agreement hearing held for Webb, as well as the plea hearings for Webb co-defendants Jose Margulies and Alejandro Burzaco. It is also requested that “any underlying plea and/or cooperation agreements” be publicly filed.
Attorneys argue that the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights presumes access to such court records, including plea hearings and documents filed in connection with those hearings. In this case, “there is no compelling reason for closure [of the plea deal records],” lawyers stated.
Webb, Brazilian businessman Margulies and Argentinian sports marketer Burzaco have collectively forfeited US$37.5 million following their respective guilty pleas to racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud in an international scheme that U.S. prosecutors allege paid more than US$200 million in bribes to high-ranking FIFA officials. The bribes were paid in exchange for FIFA officials awarding rights to commercial contracts to certain football tournaments, including World Cup qualifying matches, prosecutors have alleged.
“Of all the defendants who have pleaded guilty so far in the FIFA prosecutions, only Jose Hawilla [former principal of the Traffic Sports marketing company], who consented to forfeit US$25 million, has agreed to forfeit more money than these three individuals,” Bloomberg newsroom counsel Katherine Kriegman Graham wrote in the March 24 letter to Judge Dearie. “Public disclosure of the resolution of the case against these high-profile defendants is critical.”
Shortly after the plea agreements were struck with Webb (on Nov. 23), Margulies (on Nov. 25) and Burzaco (on Nov. 16), a superseding indictment was issued by prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York State, naming 16 previously unknown defendants in the sweeping bribery and corruption probe, many of them from Central America.
It has been the subject of wide media speculation that the information obtained during the course of plea negotiations with these three men, and several other FIFA defendants who pleaded guilty before the new indictment was issued on Dec. 3, was used to facilitate the additional criminal charges.
A total of 42 defendants have been charged in connection with the FIFA probe. More than a dozen have pleaded guilty, including Webb, and another 10 have since appeared before the federal district court in Brooklyn, New York, including former Cayman resident Costas Takkas, who was extradited from Switzerland last week.
“The government has made substantial progress toward bringing the indicted defendants to the U.S. to face these charges,” federal prosecutors said in a case update on March 28. “The government is actively seeking the extradition or arrest of all defendants still overseas.”
Aside from Webb and Takkas, FIFA investigators have not named any other Cayman Islands residents or former residents in connection with the case. However, allusions have been made to the involvement of companies and other individuals in the Cayman Islands.
For instance, the FIFA indictment issued in December makes reference to “Co-conspirator #24” – a close associate of Webb’s – who “had a connection to Soccer Uniform Company A.” Soccer Uniform Company A has since been identified in court records as Pakistan-based Forward Sports, the manufacturer of the “Brazuca” football used during the 2014 World Cup.
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 Cayman Islands businessman and now-convicted fraudster Canover Watson’s criminal trial earlier this year 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.
In addition to the Forward Sports details, the superseding indictment refers to an unnamed Caymanian attorney who alleged handled payments made to a Florida bank account that federal prosecutors claim were actually bribes made to Webb.