Emails reveal governor’s ‘relief’ over premier’s arrest
The former governor of the Cayman Islands, Duncan Taylor, suggested a “quiet bottle of bubbly” would be in order if McKeeva Bush was charged with criminal offenses, in a series of emails to a British foreign office official that were read out in Grand Court on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Mr. Bush’s defense team produced the emails, which they suggested showed there was a conspiracy to bring down the former premier, during cross-examination of Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, who denied being part of any such plot.
In one email, dated March 20, 2013, Mr. Taylor intimates to the official, named only as Tony, that Mr. Bush is about to be charged that afternoon.
“I’m not opening any quiet bubbly until it is confirmed,” he wrote. “When it is, there will be a huge sigh of relief across the Cayman Islands, including a loud one from this office.”
He follows up with confirmation that the charges have been brought, writing “Good day for Cayman.”
Mr. Bush’s barrister, Geoffrey Cox, QC, suggested the emails, spanning a period from several weeks before Mr. Bush’s arrest in December 2012 to just after he was officially charged, show that the governor was determined to oust a sitting premier.
He said the emails demonstrate that Mr. Taylor wanted to ensure charges were laid before the general election.
Under questioning from Mr. Cox, Mr. Manderson denied that he had been part of a plot, along with the governor and others, to get rid of Mr. Bush, and said he was unaware of the content of the messages until they were read to him in court.
In one email, dated Feb. 5, 2013, before the charges were brought but after the arrest, the governor comments, “The commissioner and his team are doing everything they can to expedite matters and are aware of potential difficulties if we are unable to get to charging McKeeva before the elections.”
Mr. Manderson said he was aware of a general urgency to have the matter dealt with but no specific desire on the part of himself or the governor to do so before the general election.
In a follow-up email, again to the official named Tony, and dated March 5, just before election campaigning was to begin, the governor wrote, “If he is not charged in at least one of these cases before then, the temperature will raise further and Bush will press his narrative that this is a political witch hunt to get rid of him.”
In a later email, after the charges had been laid, the governor appears eager that the public is aware of some of the details of the charges against the former premier. By that time, Mr. Bush had been replaced as leader of the country following a vote of no confidence but was running in the election as leader of the United Democratic Party. The governor reveals to the official that he has tipped off a “media source” that the charge sheet is a public document that can be obtained at the courthouse. In further emails, he suggests more charges may be being brought and expresses disappointment when this does not prove to be correct.
“There is a clear public interest in trying to ensure these charges are added,” he writes, adding that the electorate should know about the allegations “in the face of continual lies by McKeeva.”
As the emails were put to Mr. Manderson one by one, he denied any prior knowledge of their content. He said he did not know what the governor’s motivation was in sending the messages.
“I can’t say that what the governor was doing had anything to do with politics at all,” he said in answer to questions from Mr. Cox about whether the messages suggested Mr. Taylor had breached his constitutional requirement to be politically impartial.
Mr. Manderson acknowledged that he had been aware that there was a “tense” relationship between the governor and Mr. Bush.
Asked if he was aware that the governor was eager to have Mr. Bush arrested, Mr. Manderson said, “I was aware that the governor took his responsibility for good governance seriously and did everything in his power to ensure the commissioner of police was able to do his duties properly.”
Asked to elaborate on his answers, under re-examination from prosecutor Duncan Penny, QC, he said the governor has a responsibility to ensure everyone who holds government office was behaving appropriately and not abusing the office. He agreed with Mr. Penny’s suggestion that the governor had responsibility for policing and that the commissioner of police was required to report to him.
He added, “This was a case where someone in high office was suspected of wrongdoing. He had an overriding obligation to make sure everything was done properly by everyone.”
The emails, read to the court in the form of questions to the witness, began in the weeks before Mr. Bush’s arrest. In one message in November 2012, Mr. Taylor suggests an arrest is imminent and says “senior and trusted officials” have indicated it would be a “game change event,” adding, “all the more so if police are seen carting away boxes from McKeeva’s office and home.”
In that exchange, Mr. Taylor speculates that if Mr. Bush is arrested or charged, his party colleagues may see it as “the last straw” and a “welcome opportunity” to forcefully ask him to step aside.
He goes on to say, “We know they want him out and an arrest, let alone a charge, might just help them rediscover their backbone.”
He adds, “If it becomes public knowledge that he drew cash out on his card to gamble, I think his position will become untenable.”
He suggests “we watch and wait” and take care not to be seen to be interfering or forcing Mr. Bush out of office, warning this might allow him to “play the victim card.”
He goes on to suggest to the official, “One possibility you might want to give thought to in London is encouraging trusted media contacts there, if you are confident it can be done without leaving finger prints, to write articles setting out the damage [that could be] caused to the Cayman Islands’ reputation if McKeeva does not step aside after his arrest.”
Mr. Cox read at length from the governor’s emails, which he said confirmed “what Mr. Bush has always said that this was a political plot designed to exploit and leverage a criminal investigation to bring him down politically.”
“I don’t know about any plot, sir,” Mr. Manderson replied. In one of the emails, again prior to Mr. Bush’s arrest, Mr. Taylor wrote, “We should do nothing here or in London which might look as though we are trying to influence internal political matters in any way.”
He adds, “I have given careful thought to what might happen after McKeeva is arrested and how we should respond,” and goes on to suggest “we do nothing,” commenting that pressure following the arrest will “bring the structure down on McKeeva.” He suggests that if he is asked about whether Mr. Bush should step down, he should say it is a matter for his colleagues in the Legislative Assembly.
“I could quote from the Constitution to make it clear what it says on that issue,” he adds. Mr. Taylor then raises the possibility that the U.K. official consider privately briefing “trusted media contacts” and suggests, “without taking a view on his guilt,” that the premier should step down.
Mr. Manderson acknowledged, under questioning, that he had been at a meeting with the governor and Commissioner of Police David Baines just prior to receiving the official request from police for Mr. Bush’s credit card records. But he said his sole involvement at that point was to provide a list to the police of govern
ment credit card holders.
He acknowledged he had been briefed about the investigation but repeatedly denied suggestions from the defense lawyer that he was working with the governor and police commissioner to oust Mr. Bush.
He confirmed that he had spoken to at least two UDP members – Cline Glidden and Eugene Ebanks – in the run-up to the vote of no confidence in Mr. Bush in the Legislative Assembly.
He denied telling Mr. Ebanks that Mr. Bush would definitely be charged but confirmed he had told the West Bay MLA that he had been told it was felt the police had a strong case and that charges were likely.
He said he could not recall the details of a wider meeting between the governor and some of the UDP legislators.
Mr. Bush has denied 11 charges relating to allegations he used his government credit card to withdraw nearly US$50,000 in casinos in the U.S. and the Bahamas, using at least some of the cash to gamble in slot machines.
In his evidence in chief, Mr. Manderson said he had never used his card for personal use and considered it wrong to do so.