Fifa suspect Webb pleads not guilty, bond set at $13.6 million

 Former Fifa vice-president Jeffrey Webb pleaded not guilty in US court Saturday in connection with a massive international corruption scandal.
Former Fifa vice-president Jeffrey Webb pleaded not guilty in US court Saturday in connection with a massive international corruption scandal.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Former Fifa vice-president Jeffrey Webb pleaded not guilty in US court Saturday in connection with a massive international corruption scandal, with his release set at a US$10 million (S$13.6 million) bond.

He is the first former official from soccer’s governing body to appear in a New York federal court in connection with the sweeping investigation by US prosecutors that has rocked the sporting world.

The 50-year-old dual British and Cayman Islands citizen has surrendered his passports to the FBI and must remain within a 32km radius of the courthouse in Brooklyn.

He is the only one of seven Fifa officials arrested in Zurich not to contest extradition and was flown earlier this week to the United States, where he lives with his wife and their young son.

His physician wife, a US citizen, her pensioner grandmother and his in-laws signed his bond papers in court. Six other members of Webb’s extended family will also sign his bond application.

In all, 14 defendants stand accused of soliciting and receiving more than US$150 million in bribes and kickbacks across 24 years.

US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch unveiled the 47-count indictment in May, charging soccer officials and marketing executives with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.

Dressed in a crisp white shirt, blue tie and navy suit, Webb strode into court, giving a little wave to his family in the gallery and shaking hands with his lawyer at the start of the nearly 50-minute hearing.

He spoke respectfully in an authoritative voice to the magistrate, replying “yes, your honour” and “yes, I do” to her questions.

KISSES WIFE

At the end, he kissed his wife, and hugged her parents and grandmother after they signed his bond papers. Webb was led back into custody and his family left without him, making no comment.

Besides serving as Fifa vice-president, Webb was president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, as well as CONCACAF, which oversees the sport in North and Central America and the Caribbean.

He is accused of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud charges.

Prosecutors allege that Webb was bribed more than US$7 million by sports marketing outfit Traffic Sports USA and its then-president Aaron Davidson in exchange for contracts granting exclusive rights to soccer tournaments.

Davidson is out on bail and discussing a plea deal with prosecutors.

Webb’s refusal to contest extradition suggests that he too may be keen to negotiate a deal. His lawyer, Edward O’Callaghan, made no comment after leaving court Saturday.

Six other Fifa officials wanted by the United States – all from South America or the CONCACAF region – have not yet agreed to be extradited.

The assets put up to guarantee the US$10 million bond offered a tantalising glimpse of the wealth that Webb has accumulated, but also the good faith of his extended family.

They include 10 properties owned by him, his wife, her parents, an uncle and three of his cousins. Other items put up to guarantee the sum were three cars, watches and jewellery.

ELECTRONIC MONITORING

He will be confined to home detention in an apartment to be approved by the FBI, and subject to electronic monitoring.

Aside from medical emergencies, he will be allowed out only to attend court hearings, meet his lawyer and to attend church, all with the prior, written approval of the FBI.

Webb will also bear the costs of a private security company that will guard him around the clock, including being posted outside the door of private meetings with his lawyer.

The terms of his release prohibit any contact with his co-defendants and co-conspirators, CONCACAF, Fifa or any of the sports marketing companies listed in the indictment.

His wife has also surrendered her US passport to the FBI. The court heard that she had taken a year off work since the couple’s son was born, but had worked as a consultant since his arrest.

The arrests in Switzerland ignited an unprecedented crisis at Fifa, with the body’s president Sepp Blatter ultimately agreeing to stand down.

Blatter, 79, has denied any wrongdoing, saying he bears no responsibility for any misdeeds committed by his deputies.

On Monday, Fifa’s executive committee is expected to set out the timetable to determine the election for Blatter’s replacement.

Commentators, and even sources close to Blatter, have not ruled out the prospect of the embattled Fifa president reversing his decision to resign and standing for re-election.