US sports exec in plea talks in FIFA corruption case -prosecutors

NEW YORK/ZURICH: A sports marketing executive who was indicted along with 13 other people in a US corruption case that has rocked the football world has been discussing a plea deal with prosecutors, according to a court filing on Thursday.

Aaron Davidson, who was the head of Traffic Group's US unit in Miami, has since his arrest in May been "actively engaged in plea negotiations," prosecutors said in a letter filed in federal court in Brooklyn, New York.

The letter was filed ahead of a court hearing for Davidson scheduled for Friday. Davidson's lawyer declined to comment.

Court proceedings in the sprawling corruption case are ramping up, as Swiss authorities have extradited to the United States a defendant who was among seven current and former FIFA officials arrested in Zurich.

FIFA, football's world governing body, has hired a New York-based crisis communications and consulting firm, Teneo, to help handle the multinational probes and try to restore its tarnished image.

Swiss authorities did not name the extradited official, but the news came six days after a source told Reuters that Jeffrey Webb, one of the seven executives arrested on May 27, had agreed not to fight his extradition.

In May, Davidson pleaded not guilty to charges that he secured sports marketing contracts worth more than $35 million for Traffic, in part by arranging bribes for Webb. He posted a $5 million bond and is under house arrest.

The letter filed in court on Thursday did not give details of the plea negotiations. It said prosecutors had begun disclosing some material to Davidson's lawyers that could be used as evidence in the case.

At a March 2014 meeting in New York that the indictment said had been called to discuss bribe schemes, Davidson allegedly said to a co-conspirator, "Is it illegal? It is illegal."

The indictment charged football officials and marketing executives with exploiting the sport for their own gain through bribes of $150 million over 24 years.

The owner of Traffic, Brazilian José Hawilla, has already pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy, obstruction of justice and other charges.


Davidson and the others have been swept up in a US-led probe into allegations of bribery, fraud and money laundering. The probe includes possible corruption in the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

FIFA's hiring of Teneo, a crisis communications and advisory firm, "to work across operational and reputational priorities" as a FIFA spokeswoman explained it, represents the organisation's latest attempt to contain the fallout from the scandal.

Teneo declined to comment, but its executives include a number of people who have worked on World Cup bids, among them its president, Doug Band, who was a director of a US campaign to host the tournament in 2022. The US bid lost out to Qatar in a vote of FIFA executive committee members that is now one subject of the US and Swiss investigations.

Before co-founding Teneo, Band served for years as a close aide to former US President Bill Clinton in the White House as well as in his post-presidential career

In another sign of how FIFA is grappling with pressure to improve transparency, its ethics committee, responsible for investigating the corruption allegations, on Thursday called for a change in rules to let it release more information about ongoing investigations.

Webb, 50, and six others were jailed after a dawn raid on a luxury hotel in Zurich just two days before a FIFA congress in May where President Sepp Blatter, 79, was re-elected for a fifth term.

A citizen of the Cayman Islands, Webb is charged with racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering. Neither his lawyer nor a US Justice Department spokeswoman responded to requests for comment.

The U.S. indictment describes Webb as using his influential positions to solicit bribes from sports marketing companies in exchange for the commercial rights to football matches.