Attorneys battle over truth in Watson-Blake case

| 14/10/2022
Canover Watson (left) and Bruce Blake

(CNS): Canover Watson and Bruce Blake are both liars, prosecuting counsel Eloise Marshall KC told a jury this week as she summed up the crown’s case against the two men, who are accused of scamming $1.5 million from the regional football association, CONCACAF, and of laundering the cash almost a decade ago. But Dapinder Singh KC accused the crown of telling only half the story in its case against Watson, pointing to evidence he had presented supporting his client’s position that he was doing legitimate business.

Meanwhile, Cairns Nelson KC said that the only thing his client, Bruce Blake, was guilty of was trusting his life-long friend, Canover Watson, and being a football geek.

All three lawyers battled for the attention of the twelve men and women on the jury to establish their version of events, as they summed up the evidence after a trial that has lasted eleven weeks.

In that time the jury has been presented with an unprecedented amount of documents showing a complex web of football-related business dealings across the region and here in Cayman involving Watson and Blake, as well as Jeffery Webb, their common business partner and then president of CONCACAF, and other football officials.

The jury has also listened to direct evidence from several crown witnesses and the testimony of Watson and Blake, who were both on the stand for many days.

The case hinges on part on whether or not Canover Watson, in 2013, conned CONCACAF into paying over $I.54 million for football equipment the association did not need and never received. The invoices were paid to a company owned by Watson after he had entered into a partnership with the agent for Forward Sports, a Pakistan-based manufacturer of sports gear.

Shakeel Khawaja, the sales manager for that company, gave evidence that he knew nothing about the invoices or the cash Watson received. Khawaja claimed they were not genuine orders for CONCACAF that the manufacturer ever fulfilled. However, Watson accused Khawaja of not telling the truth because he was taking money meant to pay the factory in Pakistan for the goods they were buying and selling to various football federations.

Watson also said the invoices at the heart of the case were paid and signed off by Enrique Sanz, then general secretary of CONCACAF, and that the business situation Watson was in supplying CONCACAF and other regional associations was all approved by Webb. Both Sanz and Webb were heavily embroiled in the explosive 2015 FIFA scandal in which both were later convicted of various racketeering offences.

The crown says that these ‘fake’ invoices are at the heart of the scam. CONCACAF officials who gave evidence said the goods were not what they would have ordered, were in excess of what they would need and, most importantly, they never arrived.

But Watson argued that the invoices were paid because the goods were ordered and were broadly supplied, albeit piecemeal, as a result of various challenges. In some cases, certain things had been swapped out due to problems with the manufacturer, and where they had not arrived, it was not because of deceitful intent.

He claimed that the crown missed significant amounts of documentation that actually explained what was ordered and what and how things were paid for, including a number of complex transactions as well as difficulties that he had with banks which would not do business with Pakistan.

Singh argued that his client was a successful businessman who set up legitimate companies and was doing legitimate business. He said that when the evidence in its entirety was considered, including emails and documents, it should have been apparent to investigators that there was no crime.

But he claimed the investigation was biased against Watson, as the officers involved had also handled the CarePay case, in which Watson was convicted of scamming the Health Services Authority relating to a card payment system.

Blake is not charged on the first count of ‘secret commissions’, which relates directly to the invoices. However, he faces allegations of money laundering and assisting Watson with false documents to launder what the crown claims are ill-gotten gains from CONCACAF.

But Blakes’s lawyer asked the jury if his client, a professional lawyer and finance expert with Maples, would really sell his soul for just $90,000, which is all the crown has suggested Blake gained from assisting in the laundering of well over $1.5 million. He suggested to the jury that the case was all a matter of Blake, a very busy man who was perhaps not paying the attention he should have, offering to help Watson deal with his business issues.

Following the closing statements by the three attorneys, the jury was released until next week, when Justice Margaret Ramsay-Hale, who is presiding over the trial, will direct them on the law and explain the questions they will need to consider in this very complex case before they reach a verdict.

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