Former Premier McKeeva Bush routinely used his government credit card to gamble thousands of dollars in the hope of scoring a big win for himself, QC Duncan Penny said Monday as he opened the Crown’s case.
“This is a simple story about abuse of trust. It is a story about a powerful man’s systematic abuse of access to money, access to money which was entrusted to him only because of his position of power as the senior elected member of Cayman Islands government,” said Mr. Penny as the four-week trial began in Grand Court.
He said Mr. Bush had made cash withdrawals for “large sums” in the “small hours of the morning” for his own gambling, fully aware that the government card was not intended for that purpose.
“This was not an investment scheme for the good of the Cayman Islands. It was an investment scheme for him and for him alone,” Mr. Penny said.
He added: “He did it for his own reason, and the reason was very simple – to seek his own enrichment. No doubt because he knew that what he had done was wrong, when the matter began to be examined, he lied about it and he tried to deflect attention.
“Never did he tell the simple truth, either to police or the public, that although he had indeed paid a good part of those sums back, he had been withdrawing the money so he could gamble in the hope of a big win for himself.”
Mr. Bush faces 11 charges relating to misuse of his government credit card between July 2009 and April 2010, including six counts of misconduct in public office, contrary to Common Law, and five counts of breach of trust by a Member of the Legislative Assembly, under the Anti-Corruption Law. Mr. Bush denies the charges.
The prosecutor detailed one trip to Hollywood, Florida, where he said within days of receiving his government-issued credit card in June 2009 – just after winning the general election – Mr. Bush was withdrawing large sums of cash at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
Over the course of a five-day trip, he said, Mr. Bush had spent 17 hours on slot machines and lost a total of just over $18,000, according to records from his casino loyalty card.
The loyalty card, he said, allowed gamblers to “log in and out” in order to get perks from the casino, and provided documented evidence of when Mr. Bush was using the machines during various trips to that casino.
He said these times could be cross-referenced with hundreds of credit card withdrawals and attempted withdrawals on Mr. Bush’s government card and his four personal credit cards to illustrate how the money was being spent.
In all, Mr. Bush is alleged to have made 48 successful transactions totaling just under US$50,000 on his government card over the course of 11 trips to Florida, Las Vegas and the Bahamas during a nine-month time span while he was leader of the country.
Mr. Penny said the former premier had used the government card “almost interchangeably” with his personal cards at casino ATMs and swipe machines on the casino floor, designed to allow gamblers to make secure cash withdrawals.
“The withdrawals [on the Cayman Islands government card] were interspersed among many other unsuccessful attempted withdrawals on the same card and many hundred withdrawals and attempted withdrawals on his own four personal credit cards amounting to something over $400,000,” said Mr. Penny.
“The pattern and timing of the credit card use, together with evidence from the casinos recording his gambling use, drives you to the conclusion that those withdrawals were made for the purpose of gambling, with a view to the defendant himself reaping the benefit of any winnings.
“The money was drawn on government’s line of credit with the intention of his using it for the purpose of seeking his own enrichment,” he added.
Mr. Penny said in his opening statement that the pattern of behavior fell “so far below” the standards expected of his “high office” that it constituted a breach of public trust.
He acknowledged that Mr. Bush had “at least initially” been aware of this responsibility to pay back the money in a timely manner – highlighting his credit card statements to indicate which charges were for his personal use and writing a check to pay them back.
But he said this repayment scheme had become “haphazard” and by November 2012, when the issue was being investigated, he still owed more than CI$10,000.
“He does not appear to have been at all anxious to make sure his past personal activities in casinos were not being funded by government on an ongoing basis,” added Mr. Penny.
Mr. Penny drew attention to a 2001 resolution in the Finance Committee of the Legislative Assembly which he said established the rationale for government credit card use.
The wording of the resolution, he said, established that the card was designed to enable easier payment of official travel and hosting expenditure, pointing out that Mr. Bush was on the committee and was present when the motion was passed and so would have known this.
He added that Mr. Bush had received a memo when the card was issued indicating that a claim form, along with supporting documentation in relation to official expenditure, must be submitted following a trip.
He said, “He must have known this conduct fell well below that which the public was entitled to expect of their elected representatives; alternatively, he simply didn’t care.
“When it came to light two years later, he chose to lie in various ways about the use to which the funds had been put. He claimed they were for security costs that the Cayman Islands government had declined to pay for … But he never said he used the money for gambling, and he thought he was allowed to do it because he could use his card for whatever he liked. He never said that in November 2012.”
The Crown continued its opening Monday afternoon.