Prosecutors in the FIFA corruption scandal have asked for a special hearing to explore whether the law firm representing Cayman’s Jeffrey Webb has a conflict of interest in the case.
According to court documents filed this week, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York have sought an Aug. 29 hearing to review with Webb whether he wishes to continue to employ attorneys with Clifford Chance US LLP in his defense.
The issue arises over the fact that the same firm, although not the same attorneys, represents another defendant in the ongoing corruption probe in which Webb pleaded guilty to seven charges in November 2015.
That defendant, Jorge Luis Arzuaga, pleaded guilty last month in federal court to one charge of money laundering conspiracy in connection with the FIFA investigation and faces sentencing in January, the same month set for Webb’s sentencing.
“The government was informed by counsel for Mr. Webb and Mr. Arzuaga at the inception of their respective representations that each defendant was informed of the potential conflict posed by having attorneys from the same law firm represent multiple defendants in related criminal matters and that each defendant expressed to his attorney his waiver of the potential conflict,” according to a statement filed with the court by U.S. prosecutors.
Despite those statements, U.S. attorneys in the Eastern District of New York apparently wish to get the matter on the record and ask Webb himself whether this situation is acceptable, during the proposed Aug. 29 hearing.
There are several potential difficulties in having the same counsel represent different defendants in a related case, according to court records. Chief among them is a concern that attorneys who receive privileged or confidential information on behalf of one defendant that could assist in the second defendant’s defense could not disclose or use that information to assist their client.
Such conflicts, if they rise to that level, can also be grounds for appeal.
Arzuaga is accused in a U.S. federal criminal information charge, filed separately from the FIFA indictments of May and November 2015, of taking part in a scheme to funnel US$25 million in bribes from South American sports marketing firm Torneos y Competencias to various unnamed FIFA officials.
The bribes were paid in exchange for the award of marketing rights to Torneos by FIFA and its South American football confederation CONMEBOL, the charge states.
The indictment against Arzuaga implicates four Swiss banks in the bribery scheme. They are not identified in the charges, but previously released public records have identified Arzuaga as a former managing director at Swiss bank Julius Baer.
One of the football officials who received the bribe payments is identified as Julio Grondona, a high-ranking Argentinian football official who died in 2014.