(CNS): The acting president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, Bruce Blake, claims he had no idea what his former colleagues, Canover Watson and Jeffrey Webb, were up to regarding the allegations against them over the Cartan Tours deal with CONCACAF or the cash that moved in and out of the CIFA accounts. Blake, who was VP of CIFA when an unsecured “loan” from Cartan became a “gift” and when Webb was transferring funds to and from CIFA accounts in connection with money scammed from the hospital contract, said he had no idea why his millionaire friends may have been taking money from local football.
Blake told CNS he is now committed to finding out how much is missing and doing his best to recover the funds, adding that he was angry and disappointed that Webb and possibly Watson may have stolen money from CIFA when it was so strapped for cash.
“The thing that burns me is that I’m using my personal savings to subsidise local football to find that significant funds have been diverted,” he said, noting the wealth of his former CIFA executive colleagues and the freezing of government funds for the association.
“They knew I was stumping up cash,” he said. “How could they be so cold and break bread with me and know that they were diverting that money?”
Faced with a potential hole in the CIFA cashbox of a quarter of a million dollars, Blake said that as well as a review by a committee, he has asked for help from FIFA to conduct a full forensic audit of CIFA’s books, going all the way back to the 1990s.
“We just don’t know what has happened as the audits over the years never picked anything up,” Blake said when he spoke to CNS Monday about revelations that emerged during the recent CarePay trial, in which Watson was convicted of corruption.
The court heard that Webb had transferred money in and out of the CIFA accounts to and from bank accounts related to various businesses he was involved with, including AIS Cayman Ltd, Black Holdings Ltd and J&D International. One transfer of $250,000 to Black Holdings Ltd from CIFA, which was supposed to be for work on the Centre of Excellence, ended up in Webb’s US bank account to help buy his mansion in Georgia.
But with the CIFA account apparently being used interchangeably with the various business accounts that Watson and Webb controlled, Blake said there may be many more questionable transactions that have been missed by the auditors.
“We are now speaking with the relevant authorities about the money that was coming in and out and we will have to go back several years to look at the funds coming and going from our accounts,” Blake explained, pointing out that auditors are supposed to pick up on any questionable transactions over $5,000 but $250,000 had gone missing without being flagged.
Blake said that over the years, CIFA had used at least three different local professional audit firms to check the books, but it was not clear what they were told by Watson, who, as CIFA treasurer, held the purse strings throughout the period of time the questionable transactions happened. He also revealed that Watson kept a lot of the financial documents relating to CIFA at his home or his office and no one else saw them.
Blake said that he had trusted Watson to deal with the issue regarding the Cartan loan, which was revealed in a lawsuit filed by CONCACAF.
He said the offer of the unsecured loan was very welcome because at the time CIFA had a loan with Fidelity Bank that was secured against its HQ site. This created a problem getting FIFA funds because FIFA refuses to give grants and development aid to member associations if their properties are being used to secure other loans.
Blake said the money from Cartan that was agreed by Watson (though he admitted signing the deal) was paid directly to Fidelity, which then removed the charge on the CIFA property, paving the way for the GOAL funding. However, because CIFA is always struggling with funding, payments were not made to Cartan. But when Blake met with one of the firm’s executives at a football event some time in 2013 and apologised for the delaying in the repayments, he was told the “loan” was not a loan at all but a “gift”, he said.
As a result, Blake spoke to Watson directly and asked him to look into the situation, which, he admitted, “caught me by surprise”. He said it was good news for CIFA but there was “no way you would mistake a loan of that size for a gift”.
Blake said he left it in the hands of the treasurer; Watson and Webb were professional business men and everyone was busy, so he was not checking up on everything they did.
“I trusted them,” he said, adding that he had no reason to imagine the wealthy professional businessmen would be taking cash from the impoverished association.
Now CIFA is more strapped for cash than ever, Blake said, and it appears that money intended to support local football has been diverted elsewhere and may not have been returned. He said he had been having long discussions recently with FIFA and its legal professionals, who are going to help the local association undertake a detailed forensic audit of nearly 20 years of accounts. He noted that CIFA’s books are also audited by FIFA because of the financial assistance programmes and their accountants didn’t spot these issues either.
Blake was adamant that not only was he not involved in the alleged frauds but he was also unaware of them.
“I don’t tolerate stuff like that. Why take money from CIFA it doesn’t have money to take?” he said, angrily pointing to the local association’s dependence on FIFA and the generosity of local sponsors in Cayman. “I went out on a limb with when I was an associate at Maples and spent a year trying to get funding from them as sponsors,” he added.
Maintaining that he would not have risked his reputation, he pointed out that it was Watson and Webb, not him, who had the authority to sign the cheques.
“I’m now putting my money into CIFA to keep the operation going and keep the leagues running,” Blake said, adding that CIFA was now taking steps to do a proper investigation to find out what has happened and, if necessary, take legal action to get its money back.