A U.S. federal court judge refused a news organization’s bid on Friday for documents disclosing details of a plea agreement with Cayman’s Jeffrey Webb and two other high-profile defendants in the ongoing FIFA corruption probe.
Eastern District Court Judge Raymond Dearie granted Bloomberg News Service’s request for plea hearing transcripts for Webb, Brazilian businessman Jose Margulies and Argentinian sports marketer Alejandro Burzaco. Those transcripts will be partially redacted.
However, Judge Dearie did not agree to release details of the plea agreements for each of the three defendants.
“For the time being, and subject to continuing review and consideration, the request is denied,” a statement from the U.S. court issued Friday noted. “The court readily concludes that non-disclosure is justified at this time.”
The court declined to give its reasons for not disclosing the plea agreements, but reserved the right to change its decision later on if new information becomes available or if the case progresses to such a stage that the plea agreements can be disclosed.
Bloomberg attorneys argued 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 records],” lawyers stated.
Webb, Margulies and 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.
Those bribes were paid in exchange for the award of rights by FIFA officials 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 [the 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.”
It was shortly after the pleas struck with Webb [on Nov. 23], Margulies [on Nov. 25] and Burzaco [on Nov. 16] that 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.