McKeeva Bush was the victim of a “cynical” and “disgraceful” plot to remove him from office led by former Governor Duncan Taylor who was pursuing a “personal vendetta” against the elected leader of the Cayman Islands, his lawyer Geoffrey Cox, QC, said in his closing speech yesterday.
“This was a plot of breathtaking proportions,” said Mr. Cox, dismissing the evidence as “non-existent.”
“If there has been any misconduct in a public office, it has been from those who orchestrated and planned the subversion of a democratically elected premier in this territory.”
Mr. Cox questioned why any charges had ever been brought against Mr. Bush, saying the ramifications of the case and how it was handled, particularly by the then-governor, would reverberate beyond the walls of the court room.
“Cynical,” bellowed Mr. Cox, as he read aloud once again from Mr. Taylor’s now infamous emails to the foreign office.
“They have heard me here and they will hear me in Westminster,” said the lawyer, who is also a British MP. “It is cynical, deeply inappropriate and wrong, and a betrayal of the values that should operate in the administration of a territory.”
Slamming his fist on the table as he spoke, Mr. Cox added, “I have been elected three times (to the UK parliament) and I believe it is a sacred thing. You don’t undermine or subvert the will of the democratic mandate given by the people of the Cayman Islands or anywhere else.”
Mr. Cox said there had been no reason for Mr. Bush to take the witness stand because there was “no case” against him, adding, “Mac Bush is an innocent man. He may have acted unwisely. He may have been foolish to give his political opponents the ammunition to bring this charge against him. But now we know the truth from the mouths of the witnesses … that his behavior was within the rules.
“You have to ask yourself if this had been known from the beginning, would this case have been anywhere near this court?”
Speaking in front of a packed court, with every seat taken in the public gallery, Mr. Cox said Mr. Bush had a history of fighting for the Cayman Islands, occasionally got “up people’s noses” and had “clashed” with the governor.
He said the emails sent by Mr. Taylor showed his focus was clearly on the political damage that could be caused to Mr. Bush.
“What these emails reveal is that McKeeva was right,” he said, referring to Mr. Bush’s oft-stated belief that the Governor Taylor was pursuing a witch hunt against him.
“When he heard in November 2012 that his credit cards were being looked at, he smelled a rat. He knew that what he had been doing was done with the approval of the civil servants and was within the rules at the time, and he was doing nothing more or less, in principle, than anybody else had done. He knew nobody had been censured, nobody had even had a slap on the wrist.”
He said the fact that Mr. Bush’s use of the credit card, including cash withdrawals at hotels and casinos, had been done “out in the open” and was known to his civil servants for two-and-a-half years before any investigation began, showed the motivation and the timing of the investigation were political.
He said that when Mr. Taylor had written that he would be enjoying a “quiet bottle of bubbly” if Mr. Bush were charged, he was toasting the success of his plot – the removal of the premier from office.
Reading again from the emails, he said the clear focus of the governor at the time had been how the arrest would play publicly – moving to ensure journalists were tipped off and police were photographed bringing boxes from Mr. Bush’s home.
He said the evidence from various witnesses in the civil service – the financial officers responsible for implementing regulations and laws on such matters – showed that Mr. Bush had acted within the rules. Crucially, he said, Mr. Bush had stopped using his card for personal use as soon as a policy banning it came into place. It was clear, he suggested, that the premier would have stopped the activity if anyone had told him it was wrong.
He said, “The evidence in this court raises serious questions about what has gone on in relation to this premier and the events that have taken place between 2012 and today. The ramification of it will not stop at this court.
“The last time the premier used his card in this way was in April of 2010 and the first time it is brought up against him is in 2012, more than two and a half years later, and just five months before a general election.
“Is that an accident of timing, was it a coincidence? When the civil servants, the treasury had all the records – all the bank statements for the cards were all saying Seminole, Las Vegas Venetian …. The treasury, the civil service, nobody had thought it worth suggesting to the premier that he had done anything contrary to rules for two-and-a-half years.”
He said the only time question marks had been raised over the payments was when Josephine Sambula, the senior chief financial officer in his ministry had flagged some cash withdrawals with the chief officer and been told it was fine as long as he paid it back.
“The chief officer didn’t say, find out what he is spending it on. He didn’t say attach strings to the way he is spending. He didn’t say you can use it for shopping in Bloomingdale’s but not for a car. He didn’t say you can use it for a Swiss watch but not in slot machines.”
He said there were no such strings attached and the governor’s emails showed he was desperate to build any case against the Premier before the general election and for his colleagues in the Legislative Assembly to know the details of what he was supposed to have done.
Comparing Mr. Taylor to the string-pulling civil servant Sir Humphrey from the British television series “Yes Minister,” he said the governor had gone to great pains to be seen to be doing the proper thing, while all the time plotting to do the opposite.
Quoting from an exchange where Mr. Taylor suggests he should respond to the arrest by saying something proper about the rule of law and then signs off with a suggestion that the foreign office secretly brief London journalists to the effect that Mr. Bush should step down, he described the governor’s actions as cynical.
He added, “This was a deliberate attempt to maximize the political harm against this man in order to ensure his arrest and charge and bring about his removal from the premiership and subsequent defeat at the general election.
“It is a disgrace, it is the manipulation of the democratic system in this country.”
He said Mr. Bush could not be blamed, in the context of what he suspected was a political plot against him, for not coming forward to say he had spent some of the money in slot machines.
He said Mr. Bush had simply followed the rules as they were at the time when he made cash withdrawals in casinos.
“This isn’t a trial about gambling or gaming on slot machines. It is a trial about whether McKeeva Bush broke the rules, knowingly and dishonestly, when he made personal cash withdrawals in those hotels and casinos over that 10-month period.”
He said the Crown’s witnesses had not only failed to prove that case, they had actually proved the opposite – that no rule or duty was broken. He said it was not fair to attempt to prosecute Mr. Bush over his personal use of the credit card when all the senior civil servants responsible for managing the rules around government finances had thought it was okay and facilitated this use.
He said civil servants from the Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson down had said the only rule on personal spending was that it must be repaid.
He said their job was to advise the premier, reminding the jury that Wendy Manzanares, the chief financial officer in his mini
stry, had testified she would have told Mr. Bush if she had believed he was doing anything wrong.
“If they had told him, he would have stopped immediately. How can I say this? Because you know from the evidence, the moment that a policy was introduced in July 2010 he stopped.”
He said the witnesses had consistently testified that they thought Mr. Bush’s activity was within the rules and they had never advised him otherwise.
He said the only discordant voice was Franz Manderson, the current deputy governor, whose evidence he dismissed as “not worth a hill of beans.”
“He told you he did not even know ministers had credit cards until October 2012. He has spent his career in immigration and the fact that he turned up in this trial to sing a tune, very different from every other witness that has given evidence, that is something you have to consider.”
He added that it was up to the prosecution not only to prove that Mr. Bush had broken the rules, but that he had done so knowingly and he had done so dishonestly. Pointing to evidence that the premier had set up a system of highlighting his statements and paying back what he owed, he said there was no evidence of dishonesty.
Of the $10,000 that remained unpaid for more than two years, he said Mr. Bush had provided his staff with blank checks to cover the amounts he owed and had never been told, until the police investigation began, that there was any amount outstanding.
He said all his behavior had been out in the open, with the knowledge and approval of the civil servants who were advising him.
“Why would he do it? All those entries say Seminole, Las Vegas, it only takes two taps on Google to find out what they were. If he didn’t believe what he was doing was within the rules, wouldn’t he be insane?”
He said Mr. Bush had no need to take the stand to explain himself because he had been right all along – that he had done nothing wrong and that he was the victim of a plot to embarrass him in his political office.
“The reason why I have not called him to give evidence is there is no case against him. In no free country is a man required to … when the evidence is as slim and as non-existent as this,” he said.
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.
Justice Michael Mettyear will give his final instructions to the jury on Wednesday before sending them out to deliberate.