A dawn raid at a luxurious Swiss hotel in May led to the crumbling of a soccer empire and thrust the Cayman Islands into the world spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
The implications of the FBI’s far-reaching investigation into football’s world governing body, FIFA, were still unraveling as 2015 came to a close.
At the center of it all was Cayman’s Jeffrey Webb, whose rise through the ranks in the world game had previously been a source of pride in his home country.
Webb started the year tipped as a future president of FIFA and ended it facing a potential jail sentence after admitting to his role in a massive bribery scandal, dubbed the “World Cup of fraud.”
Webb was one of seven FIFA officials arrested at the five-star Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich as U.S. federal prosecutors unveiled a lengthy indictment alleging corruption, racketeering and money laundering.
By the end of the year, a total of 39 people, mostly FIFA officials and sports marketing executives, had been indicted in the U.S. investigation.
They are collectively accused of negotiating more than $200 million in bribes over television and marketing contracts for high-profile events, including FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Sepp Blatter was not among those charged and was still clinging to the presidency of FIFA in late December, despite having been banned from the game for eight years by the organization’s own ethics committee in connection with separate allegations.
Webb is currently under house arrest at his Georgia home, a million-dollar mansion he has agreed to forfeit as part of a US$6.7 million plea deal.
The 51-year-old was fired as president of the Cayman Islands Football Association in December, after his guilty plea was made public.
The football association, which Webb led for 24 years, has also been swept into the controversy.
The revelations of Webb’s antics prompted Renard Moxam, the director of the island’s national teams, to launch a bid for the leadership of CIFA in the summer.
His campaign was stopped in its tracks by what he saw as a technicality introduced at the 11th hour to block his election challenge. Bruce Blake was reappointed unopposed as acting head of the association without the need for an election at its annual general meeting in August.
In the fallout from the controversy, Sports Minister Osbourne Bodden demanded greater transparency and accountability from CIFA and pulled government’s $130,000 annual funding.
By this time, the association’s finances and its National Centre of Excellence were attracting an extra level of scrutiny. The center, comprising a small office building and a field, had attracted more than US$2 million of FIFA funding, and journalists and politicians had begun asking questions about why the vision of a world-class facility had yet to materialize.
Auditors refused to sign off on the association’s 2013/14 accounts, instead turning them over to the Anti-Corruption Commission.
An unsigned copy of the accounts, seen by the Cayman Compass, indicated an additional US$1.2 million booked in earlier financial statements as loans from “strategic partners,” were actually sponsorship grants for the center.