Syed case delays UCCI audits

The University
College of the Cayman
Islands has been unable to complete legally required financial
audits since its 2006/07 budget year because of the controversy surrounding
former school President Hassan Syed, university officials said Tuesday.

Mr. Syed, who joined UCCI in 2003,
became the subject of a criminal investigation in 2008 when certain “financial
irregularities” involved school credit cards issued to him were revealed by the
Cayman Islands Auditor General’s office.

The auditor’s office found that
some $294,000 in credit card transactions by Mr. Syed could not be substantiated
as UCCI-related expenditure. Among those transactions included some US$50,000
in jewellery purchases, and additional payments for spa treatments and a
week-long stay in France.

Some of those credit card payments
were taken out of Mr. Syed’s yearly salary, but the full amount has never been
recovered.

Royal Cayman Islands Police have
been investigating the case since mid-2008, but no charges have ever been filed
against the former university president, who is believed to have taken up
residence in Canada.

UCCI Board of Governors Chairperson
Berna Cummins told the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee that
audited accounts for the school’s 2006/07 were on her desk when she took up the
post last year, but she hasn’t signed them because of the on-going police investigation.

“I was told that if I sign off on
those accounts, it will be detrimental to the investigation,” Mrs. Cummins said
Tuesday.

“How is you signing accounts
detrimental to the investigation?” Public Accounts Committee Chairman Ezzard
Miller asked.

UCCI President Roy Bodden said he
was informed by police that signing off on financial statements during Mr.
Syed’s tenure could “prejudice” the police probe.

“It will just prejudice any future
litigation by opening up a path for someone to say ‘well, I didn’t really do
anything criminal because of these accounts,’” Mr. Bodden said, adding that he
had discussed the matter with Police Commissioner David Baines.

A spokesperson for Mr. Baines said
Tuesday evening that the commissioner did not recall making any statements
about prejudicing a criminal case. However, the commissioner did advise Mr.
Bodden not to sign off on any financial statements that were outside of his
tenure of UCCI president – which began just last year.

Mr. Miller, who has set a 30
September deadline for all outstanding government accounts to be brought up to
date, said that deadline would likely not be met by UCCI unless something could
be done in the meantime to approve the school’s financial statements.

Acting Auditor General Garnet
Harrison said he believed the audit office could issue a denial of opinion –
which means basically that auditors could not verify financial statements – for
those years in which Mr. Syed was the school’s president – at least until the
conclusion of the police investigation.

“It’s just disappointing,” Mrs.
Cummins said. “(UCCI) has completed all its financial statements since 1980 and
now we can’t because of this.”

Mr. Bodden said additional measures
had been taken at the school, including the hiring of a new chief financial
officer and the appointment of three people with financial backgrounds on the
seven-member board of governors, to ensure a situation like Mr. Syed’s does not
arise again.

“Each month, the board of governors
meeting reviews financial statements,” Mr. Bodden said.

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1 COMMENT

  1. The accounts for 2007 may not be able to be finalized but there is absolutely no reason why accounts for 2008 and 2009 cannot be finalized. Bear in mind that the 2010 year end is June 30. All we get are excuses and more excuses.I sympathize with Dan Duguay who did such an excellent job.
    Incidentally when the police look into company fraud in Cayman it does not stop the audit. Something is not quite right here and I believe we need a detailed explanation from the RCIP.

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