Sources: Watson arrested again in football funds probe

Canover Watson

Cayman Islands businessman Canover Watson was arrested Monday by officers from the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Cayman Compass has confirmed through numerous official sources.

A statement on the arrest made by the commission noted that a 47-year-old male had been arrested on suspicion of two offenses under the Anti-Corruption Law, including money laundering and conspiracy to defraud under the common law.

The commission noted that Monday’s arrest was in relation to earlier arrests made on June 29 and 30, 2017, connected to an ongoing probe. The probe involved US$1.2 million in funds that were controversially “loaned” to the Cayman Islands Football Association in 2013.

Both Mr. Watson and former association vice president Bruce Blake were arrested in connection with the anti-corruption probe almost a year ago, but as far as the Compass is aware, neither man has ever been charged in that case.

Mr. Blake’s attorney, Steve McField, released a statement about his client’s arrest to the Cayman Islands media in July 2017.

“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,” the attorney’s statement 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 has not at anytime engaged in arranging nor receiving any secret commission. Mr. Blake has not at anytime engaged in money laundering. Mr. Blake has not at anytime received or arrange[d] any corrupt payment for or to CIFA nor any other entity or person(s). Mr. Blake has not at anytime engaged in any secret payment(s) or improper business or unprofessional practices or advantages for himself or any other person(s) or entity.”

Mr. Watson was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2016 for his involvement in a scheme that skimmed money from the public hospital system’s CarePay patient swipe-card contract while he was the Health Services Authority chairman.

His attorney, Amelia Fosuhene, declined to make any statements Monday, indicating she had not received any instructions from her client to do so.

It was not clear why Mr. Watson, having already been arrested in June 2017, was being arrested a second time in connection with the same probe.

However, the Anti-Corruption Commission statement released Monday noted a new allegation – conspiracy to defraud under the common law – that was not included in allegations at the time of Mr. Watson’s first arrest.

Commission officials further confirmed that no “third person” had been arrested in connection with the ongoing football funds probe, meaning Mr. Blake and Mr. Watson are the only two people to have been arrested in relation to the matter to date.

A late-2015 civil lawsuit filed in U.S. federal court, which was later settled, alleged that US$1.2 million in what were initially called loans granted to the Cayman Islands Football Association in 2013 were really a form of “graft.”

The December 2015 lawsuit alleges that the money represented bribe payments given indirectly by Cartan Tours and Forward Sports to former CIFA President Jeffrey Webb. The suit alleges Cartan paid the bribe money in exchange for a lucrative business arrangement with CONCACAF, world football’s regional governing body for the Caribbean, North and Central America, of which Mr. Webb was president of at the time.

The initial U.S. court filing alleged that shortly after an October 2013 CONCACAF summit meeting, Cartan Tours made the “mysterious” US$600,000 loan to CIFA. The suit notes that Mr. Webb was also president of the Cayman Islands Football Association at the time and that his close business associate, Canover Watson, then served as CIFA’s treasurer.

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 attorney Bruce Blake on behalf of CIFA, court records state. Mr. Blake was the vice president of CIFA at the time.

During a 2015 audit of CIFA finances, Cartan Tours principal David Elmore was asked about that company’s loan or “gift” to the local football association.

“Elmore admitted to the auditors that Cartan made a charitable donation of US$600,000 to CIFA in 2013, but … denied any affiliation with Cartan International, a company incorporated in Panama on May 23, 2013,” the lawsuit states. Mr. Elmore indicated that Cartan Tours does not have an account or office in Panama and said the money for the CIFA donation was wired from a U.S. bank account.

The U.S. lawsuit alleged: “Cartan never provided any material amount of services to CIFA, nor did Cartan widely publicize its fictitious charitable gift – which is what typically would be expected of a corporate sponsor. That is because it was not a gift at all, but yet another form of graft and illicit dealing between [the lawsuit defendants] and Webb.”

Cartan representatives denied all such allegations in a statement to the Cayman Compass during early 2016. The court case was eventually settled, but details of the agreement were never made public.

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