(CMR) Former treasurer of the Cayman Islands Football Association Canover Watson has been sentenced to eight years in prison, while former vice president Bruce Blake was sentenced to two years after they were found guilty in a major fraud case last year.
Watson was found guilty of six counts, including secret commissions, money laundering, and false accounting, while Blake was found guilty of two counts of false accounting.
Watson was sentenced to 3.5 years for secret commissions and two years for each count of money laundering to run consecutively to the count of secret commissions. He was sentenced to 4.5 years for false accounting to run consecutively to the sentence for secret commission and concurrently to the money laundering counts. This means he will serve eight years in prison.
Blake's sentence was discounted to 18 months from three years on one count due to mitigating factors of good character, a long delay in the case, and a low risk of reoffending. He was sentenced to two years on the second count, with both sentences to run concurrently.
Chief Justice Margaret Ramsay-Hale, in handing down the sentences on Wednesday, said Watson's actions caused damage to Cayman's reputation as a financial center. She further stated that the seriousness of the offense by Blake is compounded by the reputational damage done to CIFA and a breach of trust by a Cayman Islands accountant and attorney. She said both men's actions were in breach of trust.
Watson, former treasurer of CIFA, was accused of stealing US$1.54 million from CONCACAF in 2013, and Blake was accused of helping him to launder this money.
Both Watson and Blake were ordered to start serving their sentences at once; however, Watson is expected to make a bail application pending the outcome of an appeal. Watson was also expected to reveal details of his finances to the court.
Both men were initially arrested in 2017 and charged in 2019, and they pleaded not guilty to eight charges in 2021. Watson faced six counts, while Blake faced four counts, and they were charged jointly on two of the eight counts. The charges include engaging in secret commission contracts, transferring criminal property, entering into an arrangement contrary to the Proceeds of Crime Law, and false accounting.
During the 13-week trial, which began last August, the court heard that Mr. Watson gave CONCACAF three sales invoices totaling US1.54 million for items purchased from Forward Sports; however, these were false and erroneous statements intended to mislead CONCACAF.
The crown argued there was no evidence that the sporting equipment and uniforms ordered from Forward Sports were received, despite the payments made. Forward Sports also denied having knowledge of the payments.
Watson's defense argued that the invoices were paid because the goods were ordered and some items were supplied. The defense claimed that delays and non-deliveries were due to quality issues and shipping problems.
Watson was accused of setting up his own companies as subsidiaries of Forward Sports International Pakistan without the knowledge of the parent company. However, the defense said Forward International was aware of Watson setting up companies in Panama and the Cayman Islands.
Watson was accused of making two US$600,000 transfers from his company Forward Sports International, Panama, to the Cayman Islands Football Association, knowing it was the proceeds of crime.
Blake was accused of entering into several arrangements with Watson to facilitate the laundering of the criminal property. The court heard that Blake made false statements to CIFA's auditors about the origin of two loans used to pay down an existing loan the local football association had with Fidelity Bank.
Blake, in his defense, said he did not know the monies sent to him by Watson were criminal property. The attorney representing Blake, Cairns Nelson KC, said that the only thing his client, Bruce Blake, was guilty of was trusting his lifelong friend, Canover Watson.
The court heard that both men created false loan agreements for $600,000 and gave them to CIFA's auditors with the intention of deceiving the organization into thinking the money received was a loan.
However, Watson said it was not a false loan agreement but was loan documents for the Centre of Excellence. On the other hand, Blake denied signing the loan document and said his signature was fixed to the document without his knowledge. He said he had previously sent his electronic signature to Watson for another document.
Dapinder Singh KC, who represented Watson, accused the crown of not providing a full story. He said his client was a legitimate businessman who had committed no crime. He said investigators were biased against Watson because he was convicted of scamming the Health Services Authority.