“The Cayman Islands: A sunny place for shady people.”
For decades, that’s been the world’s unofficial motto for our country, ever since we emerged from the Caribbean Sea as an international hub for financial services. For nearly as long, we have been attempting to shed that title, by being among the first to sign international agreements on compliance and transparency, by honing our judicial system to ensure that even the most complex disputes can be determined equitably within a predictable legal framework, and by spending millions of dollars each year to project an image of Cayman as a dependable business partner in the global economy.
All that we have painstakingly built now faces great peril, in the form of the still-combusting FIFA scandal, at the center of which is our own Jeffrey Webb, the now-former head of football in the region who has been charged in U.S. federal court on 15 counts, including racketeering, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering and money laundering conspiracy.
The essence of the allegations is that Mr. Webb (and his attaché Costas Takkas, himself a longtime Cayman resident and former general secretary for Cayman football), along with more than a dozen other FIFA officials, sports marketing executives and businessmen, participated in a corruption and racketeering scheme to ensure that certain companies received commercial and media rights to international football tournaments, including the World Cup, in exchange for more than US$150 million in bribes, with millions of dollars finding their way into Cayman-domiciled financial entities.
The calculus is not complicated: Earth’s most popular sport. Inconceivable amounts of money. Corruption at the highest levels. All involving the Caribbean’s notorious “Treasure Islands.” This makes for a sensational media narrative that will only strengthen with time. Page One of Sunday’s New York Times included this headline: “How the Cayman Islands Became a FIFA Power.”
This reputational stain, we fear, will only spread. Consider Mr. Webb’s nearest associates. Canover Watson, who has been charged locally with fraud and money laundering in relation to a Cayman police probe into the Health Services Authority’s CarePay system, is the former treasurer of CONCACAF.
*Mr. Watson’s Admiral Administration shares the same roof (90 Fort Street, in George Town) as Mr. Webb’s local CONCACAF office. Further, as is revealed in the Compass today, Mr. Webb and Mr. Watson are residential neighbors as well with nearly next-door mansions on Adel Drive in the small town of Loganville, Georgia.
Also, consider that Cayman’s health and sports minister at the time the CarePay deal was struck in late 2010, former MLA Mark Scotland, joined the Cayman Islands Football Association, working for Mr. Webb, just last year. Mr. Scotland’s wife Cindy, of course, has been the head of Cayman’s financial regulator, the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority, since 2002. Mr. Scotland was in Switzerland with the CONCACAF delegation at the time of Mr. Webb’s arrest.
Given the gravity of the allegations against Mr. Webb, his intimacy with our country’s political elite, and the magnitude of the global media storm that is still gathering strength, our leaders in both business and government should be stepping forward to declare with one stentorian voice that Cayman will not tolerate corruption and financial shenanigans on our shores.
Their response to date: Near silence. The author of the New York Times article, Jeré Longman (and his photographer) on Friday stopped by (unannounced) the office of the publisher of the Compass. They had just come from the Legislative Assembly where our elected members had convened for Finance Committee. No one would talk to them.
“What is going on in this country?” Mr. Longman asked.
Good question. We’d like to know, too.
*Editor’s Note: Clarification — Company officials indicate that Mr. Watson was terminated as managing director of Admiral Administration in Cayman in November 2014.*