Canover Watson arrested in CIFA probe

The second man arrested last week in connection with a corruption and money laundering probe involving the Cayman Islands Football Association is jailed businessman Canover Watson, according to numerous government and local football sources.

Watson, 46, was taken to the Fairbanks jail and questioned Friday, according to authorities. He was arrested on suspicion of “secret commissions” – an offense under the Anti-Corruption Law – and on suspicion of money laundering contrary to the Proceeds of Crime Law. He was not charged as of press time Tuesday.

His attorney, Amelia Fosuhene, said Tuesday that she was not in a position to discuss the case.

Watson is currently serving a seven-year sentence at Northward Prison for fraud and public corruption offenses following his February 2016 conviction in the 2015-2016 CarePay trial. Watson, along with his business associate Jeffrey Webb, was accused of skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars from a public hospital swipe-card contract while Watson served as chairman of the Health Services Authority Board.

Watson is appealing the conviction to the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal.

The matter under investigation by the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Commission relates to a separate probe.

The general nature of the investigation was revealed in a statement Monday by Cayman Islands Football Association Vice President Bruce Blake. He was arrested in connection with the CIFA probe Thursday, a day before Watson, and has denied any wrongdoing. Mr. Blake has not been charged.

“Mr. Blake’s arrest was in connection with suspicion of allegations of secret commission and money laundering in relation to the signing of two loan agreements on behalf of CIFA with regards to two amounts of US$600,000 each received in the Butterfield Bank account of CIFA and then transferred to the CIFA loan account at Fidelity Bank,” a statement issued by Mr. Blake’s attorney read. “Those two amounts were represented to Mr. Blake to be loans to CIFA to pay down on the CIFA loan at Fidelity Bank in order for Fidelity Bank to remove the charge on the CIFA Centre of Excellence in compliance with FIFA regulations.

“Mr. Blake is obviously shocked and dismayed by these suspicious allegations,” the statement read, adding that the attorney had already cooperated with U.S. authorities and FIFA in their ongoing investigations.

Panama connection

The Cayman Islands Journal, a sister publication of the Cayman Compass, has previously reported that a Panamanian company set up by Watson was used to receive what was described by U.S. prosecutors as a US$1.1 million bribe payment from a company named Traffic Sports that went to Cayman Islands businessman Jeffrey Webb.

The US$1.1 million bribe forms part of the allegations made by the U.S. government against Webb in relation to the ongoing FIFA bribery and racketeering scandal. Webb has pleaded guilty to seven charges against him in that investigation and is due to be sentenced in January 2018.

The Panama company, Forward Sports Management Inc., was the same entity that drew up the US$600,000 loan agreement with the Cayman Islands Football Association, according to U.S. court records.

Watson also served as CIFA’s treasurer at the time of the loan in late 2013.

A December 2015 lawsuit filed in a California court described that US$600,000 loan from Forward Sports and a matching second loan made to CIFA as “graft,” alleging that Forward Sports and California-based Cartan Tours paid the money as bribes to former CIFA President Webb in order to win a lucrative business arrangement with CONCACAF, world football’s regional governing body for the Caribbean, North and Central America.

Webb was president of both the Cayman Islands Football Association and CONCACAF at the time the loans issue arose.

The December 2015 California civil court filing, which was settled before trial, alleged that it was shortly after an October 2013 CONCACAF summit meeting when Cartan Tours made a “mysterious” US$600,000 loan to CIFA. According to the lawsuit, the US$600,000 was disbursed in an unsecured loan from a Panamanian bank account on Dec. 31, 2013. The loan agreement between CIFA and Cartan International Management Inc. was signed by Mr. Blake on behalf of CIFA, U.S. court records state.

Forward Sports, whose representatives also attended the CONCACAF summit in October 2013, was alleged in the California lawsuit to have extended its US$600,000 loan to CIFA on the same day as Cartan Tours. The same individual who signed the loan on behalf of Forward Sports had also signed on behalf of Cartan International, court papers allege.

The agreement, which was signed by Mr. Blake on behalf of CIFA, and by nominee company secretary Irina Abrego de Espinosa on behalf of Forward Sports International, included a seven-year repayment plan at an interest rate of 1 percent above U.S. prime, or 4.25 percent.

This loan was also re-designated by the Cayman Islands Football Association as a “gift” from Forward Sports. As a result, CIFA’s audit firm Rankin Berkower refused to sign off on the football association’s financial accounts and reported the case to police.

FIFA indictment

The U.S. government’s indictment in the FIFA probe alleges that Webb told former CONCACAF General Secretary Enrique Sanz to solicit a bribe from Traffic Sports in exchange for CONCACAF’s award of the exclusive commercial rights for several regional football tournaments, including the Gold Cup in 2013 and the CONCACAF champions league for 2013/14 and 2014/15. The contract was valued at US$15.5 million.

The indictment alleges Webb and Sanz decided to use an overseas company that manufactured football uniforms and footballs to effectuate the bribe payment. The indictment notes a “close associate” of Webb’s, identified as co-conspirator #24, had a connection to “Soccer Uniform Company A.”

According to the U.S. federal court indictment: “Webb eventually instructed [Sanz] to submit a false invoice to Traffic USA for $1.1 million to be paid to Soccer Uniform Company A, which Sanz did. On or about Dec. 4, 2013, the US$1.1 million bribe payment for Jeffrey Webb was made by wire transfer from Traffic International’s 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 Capital Bank in Panama City, Panama.”

Forward Sports in Panama, the company created by Watson, appeared to have an account at Capital Bank, according to company records examined by the Journal.

Co-conspirator #24 is described in the U.S. FIFA indictment as a high-ranking official of one of FIFA’s national member associations, an official of FIFA and the Caribbean Football Union and a businessman.

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