A series of “barefaced lies” told by McKeeva Bush to explain his “abuse” of a government credit card show he knew his actions were wrong, prosecutor Duncan Penny, QC, alleged Friday in closing speeches during former Premier Bush’s criminal trial.
Mr. Penny told the jury that the defendant did not need a detailed written policy to explain the “blindingly obvious” – that he should not have been using his government-issued card to gamble.
He dismissed suggestions that the former premier was the victim of a conspiracy, urging the jury to look closely at the evidence, which he said showed beyond dispute that the card was funding Mr. Bush’s “night time gaming” on casino slot machines.
The cash, said Mr. Penny, was not being used for the good of the people of the Cayman Islands, but was being “poured into a hole in the ground” by the leader of the country in what he described as a selfish and speculative get-rich-quick scheme.
He said the credit card was not a perk of the job or a prize that was given to Mr. Bush because he had won an election and insisted he only needed basic common sense to understand it was not a “free for all with the government’s money.”
He said Mr. Bush’s explanations to civil servants and the media about how the card was used were lies that amounted to powerful evidence that Mr. Bush was aware of this.
The prosecutor was summing up the Crown’s case after Mr. Bush declined to take the stand and the defense had closed its case without calling any witnesses.
He acknowledged that the jury may disapprove of some of the content of emails sent by former Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor to a foreign office official about the investigation.
In those missives, read to the court last week as the defense team suggested the elected premier had been the victim of a politically-motivated plot, Mr. Taylor revealed he would be enjoying a “quiet bottle of bubbly” if Mr. Bush was charged.
However, Mr. Penny suggested there was no evidence of a conspiracy and urged the jury to “keep your eye on the ball” and look at the “hard, concrete facts” about the offenses alleged against Mr. Bush.
“Has he been brought before you on a trumped-up charge? Was there an evil agent of the state on all those casino floors urging him to use the card in the way the records prove that he did?”
Mr. Penny added, “This case is about what Mr. Bush did, how he behaved in his office, how he took the card which was given to him for public benefit and how he chose to use it for his own ends.
“No one fabricated the evidence. No one stood behind Mr. Bush and told him to withdraw that money and put it into slot machines. The records demonstrate the concrete, hard facts.”
Mr. Penny dismissed suggestions that the absence of a clear written policy barring personal use of government credit cards meant that the defendant’s behavior had the “seal of approval of the Cayman Islands government.”
He said Mr. Bush had been “permitted to get away with it” and had “taken advantage” of a system that he “knew to be fallible for his own selfish purposes.”
Describing a night of gambling in the Venetian casino on the Las Vegas strip, during which Mr. Bush had withdrawn US$9,000 on his government card after multiple failed attempts to get cash on his four personal cards, Mr. Penny added, “Who on Earth could possibly think that is what a government card was for? You don’t need a detailed policy to tell you that is wrong, do you?”
Mr. Penny scorned the explanations given by Mr. Bush to various witnesses and a media outlet for his credit card withdrawals in casinos, calling them barefaced lies that showed he knew his actions were wrong.
He said Mr. Bush lied to Deputy Governor Franz Manderson when he told him he made cash withdrawals in casinos because he didn’t have a PIN – a claim disproved by evidence that he used the card 40 times to withdraw cash at ATMs, which require a PIN.
He suggested Mr. Bush repeated these lies to various witnesses and again when he told the Cayman Net News in an interview that he had withdrawn the cash for armed security guards, failing to mention at any point that he had used the card to gamble.
“There is no mention (in the interview) of anything other than mysterious security guards who only took cash and had no names,” Mr. Penny said.
He said Mr. Bush had lied to “pull the wool over people’s eyes,” suggesting he had not given evidence in his own defense because he knew his explanations would not stand up to scrutiny under oath.
Turning again to the logbook of slot machine losses and credit card transactions, Mr. Penny said the former premier’s behavior demonstrated an escalating pattern of dishonest use of the card.
He said Mr. Bush had withdrawn $30,000 on the card in February and March during an “intense period of gambling” in Las Vegas and Florida.
Describing a night in Vegas in February where the former premier made several failed attempts to withdraw cash, he said, “The card, by that point, had become a tired old lemon. Mr. Bush was still squeezing it, desperately trying to extract the last few drops of juice. But at that point, it was all peel and pulp.”
When he returned to Cayman from Vegas, Mr. Bush made no attempt to pay back the money he had spent, the prosecutor said.
Despite that, he said, around $25,000 was paid off by finance staff in two installments in March.
Days later, he said, Mr. Bush was back in the casino, this time in Hollywood, Florida, withdrawing a total of $10,000 from the card to fund another night of “huge losses” on the slots.
“How could anyone believe in those circumstances that they were acting honestly? Did the defendant feel entitled to do this? Was it his right, was it his privilege? Or was it straightforward undisguised abuse?
“Was it for the benefit of the Cayman Islands public, or was it for some selfish personal reason that he poured into a hole in the ground, on that day and night, $10,000 that had been advanced to him by the Cayman Islands government?
“You can argue and bellow and wave your arms until you are blue in the face about who failed to send the right memo … about who failed to chase the busy premier, but this right here is a cold hard fact.”
Mr. Penny suggested the implication that Mr. Bush deferred responsibility for sorting out his bills to finance staff through a system of memos, described by witnesses during the trial, could not be used as an excuse.
He said it would require a twisted logic to conclude that the premier could not have known, without the memos, how much he needed to repay.
He suggested that, given Mr. Bush’s activity on casino slot machines, checking his own statements to find out how much he owed should have been top of his agenda.
Citing the $10,000 in personal expenses that the premier, according to witness statements and government records, did not repay for over two years, Mr. Penny said it was wrong to lay blame for this at the door of overworked finance officers.
“Why should they have to spend their time chasing the wreckage in the government’s books caused by his night time gaming?” Mr. Penny asked.
He said the premier could and should have known exactly what he owed. He said the memo system, along with testimony from witnesses, had been used by the defense to paint a false picture that the “only rule was anything goes as long as you pay it back.”
Mr. Penny said the originating motion that brought credit cards into being had been quite clear that the purpose was for official travel expenditure.
Josephine Sambula, the chief financial officer in Mr. Bush’s ministry, had reinforced this, the prosecutor said, in an April 2009 memo to civil servants (though not to Mr. Bush who was yet to be elected at that ti
me) saying explicitly “government cards must be used for official purposes only.”
Mr. Penny accepted that this stance had changed once Ms. Sambula had flagged “unusual transactions” on the premier’s first credit card statement after taking office, with her immediate superior Carson Ebanks.
But, he said, Mr. Ebanks’s directive that the cash withdrawals were OK so long as they were repaid did not amount to approval of using government’s credit line to gamble – a fact, he said, the chief officer could not have been aware of at that time.
After that, he said, Mr. Bush was never questioned about the transactions again. “Was there a reluctance to challenge Mr. Bush because of who he was?” asked Mr. Penny.
The prosecutor added that a credit card expense claim form, produced by the defense as evidence that personal expenditure was OK, did not support that contention. He said the column on the form for repayment of personal expenses was simply designed to facilitate reimbursement where an unofficial expenditure, such as a glass of wine, was combined on the bill with an officially approved expenditure, such as a meal.
He said the evidence of Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, a public servant of 32 years and the most senior civil servant in the Cayman Islands government, that he had never considered using his own government card for personal expenditure was significant
“[Mr. Manderson] said it was wrong, and obviously so, and not once was he contradicted. Mr. Manderson didn’t need, and nobody else needed, a detailed written policy to tell him the blindingly obvious,” Mr. Penny told the jury.
He said Mr. Bush had not taken the witness stand himself but had “thrown stones at others,” accusing Mr. Manderson, through his attorney, of gross misconduct and being part of “an illegal and unconstitutional conspiracy.”
“Think of Franz Manderson what you will, you might want to ask yourself why a non-political man of distinguished public service would wish to lend himself to such an enterprise. Did he go the extra mile and perjure himself when he said he would never think of using the card for personal expenditure?”
Mr. Penny said Mr. Manderson was neither the author nor the recipient of the emails sent by former Governor Taylor to a foreign office official and had testified that he was not sure Mr, Taylor was motivated by political ends. He said the emails had been provided to the defense by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
“For all the drama associated with the material,” Mr. Penny said, the “hard fact” was that the decision to charge Mr. Bush lay solely with the Director of Public Prosecutions – an independent, expert lawyer who was not subject to direction or control from any authority.
Mr. Bush is facing allegations that he abused his office by withdrawing nearly $50,000 on his government credit card between July 2009 and April 2010 in casinos in the U.S. and the Bahamas and that he used at least some of the money to gamble,
He has denied 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.
His lawyer, Geoffrey Cox QC, will give his closing speech on Monday and a verdict is expected some time next week.