Canover Watson — now under arrest on fraud, corruption and money laundering charges, and also under investigation for corruption related to the FIFA scandal — was managing director of a firm that received over $2 million in payroll rebates from Nova Scotia Business Inc.
Corruption at FIFA is no surprise. Reporter Andrew Jennings first detailed the corruption on the BBC’s Panorama show in 2006, in an episode titled “The Beautiful Bung: Corruption and the World Cup.” The same year, Jennings published his book, FOUL! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals.
In a 2010 Panorama episode titled “FIFA’s Dirty Secret,” Jennings further alleged that three members of FIFA’s executive committee had taken bribes to award hosting rights to FIFA championships. The episode aired just three days before FIFA announced the winning bids for the 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar) World Cups; the timing brought international press attention to corruption at FIFA.
FIFA corruption was common knowledge. Anyone paying attention knew about it. In 2011, I pointed out that FIFA was “ethically challenged.” I made that observation because just then the city of Halifax was contemplating joining the Canadian bid for the 2015 Women’s World Cup in order to justify the building of a stadium. “Should we get [a stadium] even if it means flirting with potential payola, kickbacks, graft and bribery?” I asked.
And the specifics of FIFA corruption were also common knowledge: hosting rights to World Cups and other championships were awarded through bribe payments filtered through International Sports and Leisure, a Swiss marketing firm that sold access to FIFA executives. A recurring theme of corruption allegations was that bribes were paid through sketchy offshore sports and banking firms that saw little if any regulation.
But despite the wide attention given to FIFA corruption, in 2012 Nova Scotia Business Inc. was flirting with Admiral Administration, a Cayman Islands firm whose managing director is Canover Watson. Watson was at that very moment overseeing the award of FIFA broadcasting rights. Explains the Cayman Compass:
Cayman Islands businessman Canover Watson sat on a three-person committee that evaluated bids for a US$15.5 million contract that now forms part of a U.S. criminal investigation into alleged bribery and racketeering in world football’s governing body, FIFA.
The contract, according to U.S. federal court indictments, was for the commercialization rights to the 2013 version of the Gold Cup tournament and the 2013/14 and 2014/15 CONCACAF [Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football] Champions League competitions. The indictment in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York alleges that the rights to those football games were sold to Traffic USA after then-CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb solicited US$1.1 million in bribe payments from the company, through an intermediary.
A press release announcing the contract award for the tournaments was released on Nov. 27, 2012: “The multi-year agreement was reached after due process from the CONCACAF evaluation committee assigned to this bid comprised of Mr. Pedro Chaluja, Panamanian Football Federation President, Mr. Dan Flynn, general secretary of the U.S. Soccer Federation and Mr. Canover Watson, treasurer of the Cayman Islands Football Association, who evaluated all bids submitted.”
Three weeks later, NSBI announced it had signed a $2,208,500 payroll rebate deal with Admiral Administration. In return the company opened an office in Halifax.
“NSBI went the extra mile to get us to choose Nova Scotia,” said Watson via the NSBI press release.
There’s no evidence that the “extra mile” included bribes or kickbacks, but bribes and kickbacks are allegedly standard operating procedure for Watson. Last year, Watson was charged “with five separate corruption, fraud and money laundering offenses,” reported the Compass:
The charges stem from an ongoing investigation into the 2010 award of a public hospital contract for a swipe card payment system, known as CarePay, for Cayman Islands National Insurance Company customers. Mr. Watson, a former recipient of the Young Caymanian Leadership Award, was chairman of the Health Services Authority board of directors at the time the contract was awarded.
Allegedly, Watson’s secretary received two cash payments totaling US$55,000, which were delivered in envelopes to his office at Admiral Administration.
After he was charged, Watson was quietly removed from his position at Admiral Administration, and in April the company announced it was changing its name to Maitland. Watson was also suspended from his FIFA position pending an investigation. The CarePay corruption charges are still before the courts.
In the wake of last month’s arrests of FIFA officials, the Compass detailed the cozy relationship between Watson and Webb, one of the arrested and president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF):
Two top-level Cayman Islands football officials who face separate criminal investigations related to bribery and corruption charges bought houses on the same street in Loganville, Georgia, within the past five years, the Cayman Compass has learned.
One of the homes is a three-story mansion valued at US$931,000 located at 2116 Adel Drive in the small town east of Atlanta. A swimming pool was built on the property with the proceeds of bribes funneled through several international bank accounts, front companies and intermediaries, U.S. federal prosecutors have alleged.
The 9,851-square-foot home, which is listed as having six bedrooms and eight bathrooms, is owned by Cayman Islands resident Jeffrey Webb and his wife, Atlanta-area physician Kendra Gamble-Webb, according to Rockdale County, Georgia, tax records. It is one of several properties Webb owns in the state of Georgia that are now potentially subject to asset forfeiture proceedings, according to federal court indictments issued last week.
Just three houses down from the Webb home, at 2128 Adel Drive, is a US$550,000 two-story, 7,694-square-foot home on 3 acres owned by suspended FIFA audit committee member and Cayman Islands businessman Canover Watson.
This morning, the Compass reported that the CarePay bribes were allegedly funnelled through none other than Admiral Administration:
Top officials at Fidelity Bank in the Cayman Islands confirmed Friday that Jeffrey Webb remained employed at the bank on a part-time consulting contract until the end of 2012, which includes the period when he is alleged to have solicited bribes via intermediaries in exchange for awarding the commercialization rights to certain football tournaments.
Also during the period, between June and July 2012, it is alleged that two cash payments totaling US$55,000 were collected from Fidelity Bank and taken in envelopes to the offices of local financial services company Admiral Administration. The envelopes were allegedly left with the personal assistant for Canover Watson, who has been charged in connection with a Cayman Islands money laundering probe unrelated to the U.S. federal court indictments against Webb.
According to court records, the cash envelopes were later handed to an unidentified third party not connected with Admiral Administration. Watson no longer works at Admiral, but was employed at the time as the company’s managing director. Webb has never been linked to the local money laundering probe involving Watson and his personal assistant, Miriam Rodriguez.
Watson has not been charged in the FIFA corruption scandal, but he is under investigation related to the matter.
NSBI has not responded to a request for the status on the Admiral payroll rebates.