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Extradited FIFA executive holding key to SA $10m bribe turns State witness

By David Voreacos and Christie Smythe
FIFA
The logo of soccer’s international governing body FIFA is seen on its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland

(Bloomberg) — One of five marketing executives charged alongside nine soccer officials in a U.S. corruption probe of FIFA is negotiating a plea deal, according to a Justice Department filing.

Aaron Davidson, 44, former president of Traffic Sports USA Inc., a subsidiary of Sao Paulo-based Traffic Group, is “actively engaged in plea negotiations,” according to a letter filed Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn, New York.

Davidson is accused of bribing soccer officials for media and sponsorship rights. He pleaded not guilty on May 29 and is under house arrest on $5 million bail in Miami. His attorney, Lee Vartan, didn’t immediately return a call or e-mail seeking comment on the filing.

The nine officials at FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, and the five marketing executives were charged in a racketeering and bribery indictment unsealed May 27.

Seven defendants were arrested that day in Zurich. One of those men, newly suspended FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb, has been extradited to the U.S., according to a person familiar with the matter. Webb, who hasn’t yet appeared in court, was also the president of Concacaf, the soccer federation covering Central and North America and the Caribbean.

‘It Is Bad’

Passages from the 162-page indictment indicate that Davidson may have been recorded as part of the probe. The government alleged that Davidson, referring to the practice of paying bribes for commercial rights to tournaments, told an alleged accomplice: “Is it illegal? It is illegal. Within the big picture of things, a company that has worked in this industry for 30 years. Is it bad? It is bad.”

Evidence in the case may include “audio recordings in multiple languages” as well as bank and wire transfers, financial records, contracts, e-mails, text messages, handwritten notes and meeting minutes, prosecutors said in the letter Thursday.

The government has also seized records from the offices of Concacaf and Traffic Sports USA, and received records provided by foreign countries, prosecutors said.

In its case, the U.S. is alleging soccer officials took part in more than a dozen criminal schemes, including bribery conspiracies involving marketing rights for tournaments, the selection of South Africa as the host for the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 FIFA presidential election.

Davidson is scheduled to appear in court Friday.

Before the FIFA case was announced, Traffic founder Jose Hawilla, 71, pleaded guilty in December 2014, in a sealed Brooklyn courtroom and admitted that he agreed to pay millions of dollars in bribes to secure the rights to Copa America tournaments.

Prosecutors said Davidson played a role in that scheme and two others.

If convicted, Davidson faces as long as 20 years in prison.

The case is U.S. v. Webb, 15-cr-252, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn). – Bloomberg

Who is Jeffrey Webb and what does he know?

(Bloomberg) — Jeffrey Webb, the arrested soccer official who was transferred this week to the U.S., might be a key asset to prosecutors weighing whether to build cases against others including outgoing FIFA president Joseph “Sepp” Blatter.

Webb is one of nine officials at FIFA, soccer’s governing body, and five marketing executives charged in a racketeering and bribery indictment unsealed May 27. The U.S. said Webb, a suspended FIFAvice president, took millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks for media rights to soccer tournaments.

Webb, who agreed last week to be extradited, could plead guilty and help investigators in a bid for leniency at sentencing. If so, he might provide a road map to the inner workings of FIFA and his dealings with Blatter, who isn’t charged.

Webb was also close to Jack Warner, an ex-president of soccer’s governing body for North America, Central America and the Caribbean, or Concacaf.

“If there was an opportunity to cooperate, this is the time to do it,” said Jeff Neiman, a former federal prosecutor not involved in the case. “By getting to the United States quickly, he’s positioned himself well if it’s his desire to cooperate. Given his position, he undoubtedly has knowledge about those he played ball with at FIFA and Concacaf.”

Most defendants brought to the U.S. from abroad appear in court almost immediately after landing on American soil, said Lawrence Schoenbach, a New York lawyer with offices in Zurich, Paris and the Virgin Islands who has represented individuals who were extradited. A delayed court appearance might be a strong signal that a defendant is working out a deal, he said.

In U.S.

Webb arrived this week in the U.S. after agreeing to the transfer, according to a person familiar with the matter who requested anonymity because the process isn’t public. It wasn’t immediately clear Thursday when Webb will appear in federal court in Brooklyn, New York.

His attorney, Edward O’Callaghan, didn’t immediately return an e-mail and call seeking comment about Webb’s case. Nellin McIntosh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, declined to comment.

A former Cayman Islands banker, Webb became a favorite of Blatter, who suggested he would be an ideal successor. As the deputy chairman of FIFA’s internal audit committee for a decade, Webb may have details of financial transactions signed off by Blatter and sent to soccer officials implicated in the scandal.

Warner quit amid a corruption scandal in 2012 and is among those indicted, accused of taking bribes for media rights. Prosecutors say Webb took up where Warner left off, cashing in on the lucrative television rights that Concacaf controlled.

Mounting Pressure

The pressure on Warner, a Trinidad resident, is building from those close to him. His two sons have pleaded guilty, as has Charles Blazer, 70, Concacaf’s former general secretary. All are cooperating with prosecutors. Webb also served a decade ago as the director of a Cayman company that Warner controlled, court records show.

Warner in June publicly promised an avalanche of revelations about FIFA corruption. Instead, facing extradition, he posted a rambling video online saying he had placed files with attorneys in multiple countries that contain details that compromise Blatter.

Asked to elaborate on those allegations, Warner responded in an e-mail: “If and when I decide to disseminate any further information you will be advised.”

Neiman, the former prosecutor, said that Webb may have concluded that being in jail in Switzerland is more difficult than being out on bond in the U.S.

“If he were to cooperate, it’s logistically harder to do outside the United States,” Neiman said. “You can’t have it both ways in fighting extradition and cooperating.”

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