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Webb was AIS partner from get-go

| 14/01/2016
Cayman News Service

Canover Watson and his lawyer, Ben Tonner

(CNS): The former chair of the Health Services Authority Board told a jury that he knew from the very beginning that his close friend and business partner, Jeffrey Webb, was involved with the firm that went on to win the hospital payment contract. Speaking from the witness stand in his own defence against the list of corruption related charges he faces, Canover Watson denied having any beneficial ownership in AIS himself but said he learned very early in the process that Webb knew the AIS owner, Jamaican Doug Halsall, and that he would be involved in the creation of the Cayman company.

Watson said his signature on the pertinent documents for the registration of AIS and the renewals was a stamp that his personal assistant, Miriam Rodrigues, had used. The money used to pay the fees may have come from one of his business accounts, he admitted, but she had full control over all of his bank accounts and would take money when needed to cover administrative fees for all of his business. As Webb was away when she needed to deal with this administrative work, she made the decision to use his account for the fees she needed without telling him, Watson said.

He said the first time he saw the documents relating to the registration of AIS and the details of the payments was after his arrest when the police showed him the paperwork. Asked by his defence attorney if he was aware of his name being on the paperwork, he said, “No not at all … she would not have given a thought about it as she did this all the time.”

The former HSA chair denied that he was involved in the conspiracy to conceal Webb’s 60% ownership of AIS Cayman Ltd, which won the payment contract, and said he could only assume Webb’s intention was to hide the assets from his ex-wife as they were in the process of separating.

“Jeffrey Webb was going through a long and costly divorce during the time of engaging in the AIS venture, so it may seem he was trying to disguise it from his wife and her attorneys,” Watson said as he took the stand Wednesday.

He said that since his arrest in August 2014, he has not spoken to Webb or any of the other key individuals in the case, such as Halsall or Josclyn Morgan and Eldon Rankin, the two men the crown say Watson and Webb appointed as sham directors to cover their interests as the beneficial owners of the firm. However, he made it very clear that he would have wanted to speak to them all to assist his defence.

Watson admitted that he found out soon after AIS came to give its first presentation in the summer of 2010 that Webb already knew Halsall. He also admitted giving Webb and Halsall advice and help in drafting letters, as they aimed to expand the AIS business across the Caribbean region via Webb’s football contacts.

Watson told the jury that he was aware that Halsall wanted to grow AIS, which was based in Jamaica, and his decision to create a company in the Cayman Islands was wider than the local hospital contract.

“I got the impression that Cayman was a small market for him (Halsall) but he planned to use it as a hub to expand his business,” Watson told the court.

He said he had advised him to register in Cayman, like hundreds of other people, to take advantage of the tax free jurisdiction and record his profits here but to pay his business expenses in another tax jurisdiction. Watson said that was a simple business model, which he has advised on for many years.

Despite admitting he was aware of Webb’s involvement and denying his own part, the bulk of Watson’s evidence was about his own career, his business success and his close involvement in government work, especially with the UDP, revealing how deeply involved he was with the McKeeva Bush administration and efforts to deal with the budget problems and deficits. Watson was on numerous boards, committees and attended many meetings with the then premier about raising fees to balance the government books and turning around the health services.

Although Watson was originally appointed to the hospital board by Anthony Eden and served on other boards during the PPM administration before 2009, following the election of the UDP government he became much more entrenched as a government adviser, offering solutions to the myriad financial problems the country was facing, as well as turning around the hospital’s fortunes, which he described as being “bankrupt for at least five years” when he became chair of the board.

The case continues.

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