Canover Watson exits the courthouse after being found guilty of corruption
GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (CNS) -- The former chair of the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority (HSA), Canover Watson (45), has been found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to defraud, one count of conflict of interest, one count of fraud on government and one count of breach of trust following a nine week corruption trial over a lucrative hospital payment and verification system.
However, he was found not guilty of money laundering before he was led out from the Grand Court and remanded in custody.
After deliberating for just over a day, the six women and one man on the jury announced four unanimous guilty verdicts at 2:30 on Thursday afternoon but returned to their deliberations following directions from the judge that they could reach a majority verdict if they were not unanimous on the remaining two counts.
Watson placed his head in his hands as the first four verdicts were read out and then had a nerve-racking wait before the jury returned with their verdicts on the remaining counts.
After another hour and twenty minutes inside the jury room, they returned at 3:50 pm to deliver another guilty verdict for the breach of trust and an acquittal on the still serious charge, count five, the transfer of criminal property (money laundering).
The judge remanded Watson in custody in the wake of the verdicts and scheduled a sentencing hearing for 10:30 on Friday morning. Following the adjournment, the George Town man, a onetime community leader and 2007 winner of the Young Caymanian Leadership Award, was handcuffed and taken into custody by police.
During the nine-week trial, the jury listened to testimony from Watson, who gave evidence in his own defence, and more than a dozen witnesses and examined reams of incriminating documentary evidence, including email correspondence, bank account details, spreadsheets and contracts.
The crown’s case against Watson was that while he was chair of the HSA board, he created a company, AIS Cayman Ltd, of which he and his close friend and business partner, Jeffrey Webb, were the beneficial owners. AIS went on to win a contract, worth more than $11 million, with the HSA for a payment and verification system for patients insured with the government insurance company, CINICO.
Prosecutors claimed he had manipulated the procurement process and bumped up the transaction fees and the cost of implementing the system, which was being supplied by a partner company in the contract, AIS in Jamaica, owned by Doug Halsall.
Watson was also accused of doctoring the original contract to make it look as though the Cayman government was obligated to undertake a national roll-out of the payment system to the private health insurers and health care providers, and thereby conned the public purse out of more than $1.2 million.
His former personal assistant, Miriam Rodrigues, who stood trial with him, was acquitted last month for lack of evidence.
Jeffrey Webb, Watson’s absent co-defendant, has also been charged with corruption in this case but he has not yet been tried. Following his guilty plea in the massive FIFA corruption probe in the US, the former local football hero remains under house arrest at his home in Atlanta, Georgia, which, according to evidence in this trial, appears to have been paid for with the ill-gotten gains from the hospital contract.
As the judge thanked the jury for their hard work, he said it had been a long and complicated case in which the anti-corruption team and crown prosecutors had also worked very hard.
In the wake of the verdicts, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) said the investigation was “a protracted and complicated one, during which the officers worked methodically and tirelessly, interviewing witnesses, analysing, assessing and recording data in order to progress the investigation to the point where Watson, and others, could be charged and prosecuted.”
The ACC stated, “The concerns which resulted in the investigation of Mr Watson, and others, were brought to the Commission’s attention by individuals who took an active stand against corruption in the Cayman Islands. The Commission has continually reiterated the importance of the role of public officials and the positions of trust assigned to those roles. The Commission will continue to do its part to hold accountable those public officials who do not perform their duties honestly or with integrity and subsequently break the law.”
Watson was sentenced on Friday by Justice Michael Mettyear to concurrent seven-year terms for the conspiracy convictions and three-year terms for the counts of conflict of interest and breach of trust. The judge said that, as a non-violent or sexual offence, the sentence should not be so long as “to crush” the man’s spirit but he said the 45-year-old George Town man had acted out of greed.
Justice Mettyear said the evidence against him was overwhelming but instead of pleading guilty, he twisted and turned and invented a detailed and complicated web of lies. “You have not shown a jot of remorse,” he noted.
Justice Mettyear said Watson was able to succeed because of position of power and trust as chair of the Health Services Authority Board and had little regard for the people he was working for. He was “supremely confident” of his ability and used his position and reputation to ensure that senior officials accepted his word and not question his conduct.
“You are a certified accountant and you behaved shamelessly,” the judge said, as he pointed to the many falsified documents. “You fooled a number of senior civil servants and possibly a minister and tried to fool the jury, but there you failed,” he said. “You were already a wealthy man when you started. This was sheer greed and contempt for your fellow Caymanians.”
The judge said he was prepared to accept that Jeffrey Webb, a convicted racketeer, was the senior partner controlling the bank accounts, but he said Watson played his part in full. “I am satisfied that, of the two, you are the cleverer,” he said.
The judge also set a timetable for a confiscation hearing regarding the kickbacks and payments Watson creamed off in conspiracy with Webb. In relation to the original contract, the two men took over $2 million for themselves, he said, but if the launch of the CarePay system had gone as planned, they would have taken more than $3 million. Although the potential kickbacks from the national rollout are not exactly known, the crown claims that if things had gone according to plan, they could have enriched themselves by more than $8 million from the public purse.
Republished with permission of Cayman News Service