Allegations that FIFA vice president and Cayman Islands resident Jeff Webb took millions of dollars in bribes were met with a mix of silence and sympathy by senior politicians and soccer officials in the territory.
Webb was one of several FIFA officials arrested in a dawn raid at a Swiss hotel on Wednesday morning as U.S. prosecutors revealed allegations of a “rampant, systemic and deep rooted” kickback scheme in international football’s governing body, which they described as the “World Cup of fraud.”
Premier Alden McLaughlin said he was aware of the allegations and was monitoring media reports but could not comment on what he described as a “developing story and an ongoing investigation.”
Opposition leader McKeeva Bush also declined to comment but asked the people of the Cayman Islands to keep Mr. Webb and his family in their prayers.
Cayman Islands Football Association vice president Bruce Blake, understood to be in Switzerland with Webb for FIFA’s annual meeting, told the Compass via text message that he did not have any comment. “I don’t know any more than what is on the news,” he said. CIFA official and former Sports Minister Mark Scotland, also said to be in Switzerland, did not answer calls and texts.
CONCACAF later issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned” by the day’s developments and was co-operating with authorities to the “fullest extent.”
FIFA’s independent ethics committee released a separate statement confirming that the 11 officials arrested, including Webb, had been provisionally “banned from football related activities” as the investigation continued.
The allegations, outlined in detail in a 161-page document filed with the U.S. District Court, Eastern District in New York, also state that Cayman Islands bank accounts were used to funnel illegal payments to Webb.
Jude Scott, the CEO of Cayman Finance, did not respond to requests for comment.
Tim Ridley, the former chairman of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority, said the allegations alone could damage the territory’s reputation.
“Everyone is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, and arrest per se is far from proof of guilt.” he said.
“Having said that, the reputational damage to FIFA and to the related associations and their officers is very, very significant. And the adverse media spotlight is very unfortunately inevitably also on Cayman, given that two of those arrested live in Cayman.”
The indictment refers to a number of alleged bribery payments routed through Fidelity bank accounts, controlled by Webb’s attaché, former Cayman Islands resident Costas Takkas. Webb was previously business development manager at Fidelity Bank Ltd.
Brett Hill, CEO and president of Fidelity Bank Ltd., did not respond to questions emailed by the Compass on Wednesday.
Webb had been credited with helping to develop sports tourism in the Cayman Islands, bringing several soccer tournaments and FIFA events to the island since taking over the role in 2012. A CONCACAF study, published in March, estimated the association had generated some $30 million for Cayman’s economy in that time.
It is not known what impact, if any, Webb’s arrest will have on future events, including an international under-15 tournament, featuring 37 countries, including Brazil and England, scheduled for August and expected to be the biggest tournament ever hosted on the island and a major sports tourism event.
“The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism has a multi-faceted sports tourism strategy, which includes various sports including football. We don’t anticipate the current allegations to impact our sports tourism strategy,” the department said in a short statement in response to questions from the Compass.
Local soccer coaches said they were stunned by the allegations against Webb, who has been Cayman Islands Football Association president for more than two decades.
Colin “Dougie” Rowe, technical director of Scholars International in West Bay, said, “Jeff has done a lot for Cayman football and this is really hard to digest. It is sad to see how this is unfolding.
“It is hard to know at this stage what took place, but I don’t think he is involved, and he is innocent.”
Elbert McLean, technical director of Bodden Town Football Club, said: “This is sad for the country and for football in general. As the Bible says: ‘No sin goes unpunished’ but I’m praying and hoping that it’s not true.”
Compass journalist Ron Shillingford contributed to this report.