Crown: ‘Lavish lifestyle’ for Syed

The former president of the University College of the Cayman Islands, Hassan Syed, stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the institution, using the money to fund a “lavish lifestyle,” a court heard Thursday.

Syed used the proceeds of his crimes to pay for holidays, jewelry and spa treatments and to buy gifts, including a car, for a “close female friend,” Patrick Moran, deputy director of public prosecutions, said as he opened the case against Syed on Thursday.

“The offenses with which Mr. Syed is charged are all alleged to have been committed by him for the purposes of lining his own pockets with money belonging to UCCI – money to which he was not entitled,” Mr. Moran said in his opening statement.

Syed is alleged to have used college-funded credit cards for more than US$200,000 of personal expenses, including more than US$50,000 at Tiffany’s jewelry stores.

Syed is charged with 12 dishonesty offenses, including theft, obtaining money transfers by deception, and obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception during his time at the helm of the college between August 2006 and May 2008. He has denied the offenses.

The charges include claims that Syed:

Pretended to have a doctorate to get the president’s job, which nearly tripled his salary to CI$132,000

Stole more than US$200,000 from UCCI by using his college credit card for personal expenses, including nearly US$80,000 for jewelry

Dishonestly used UCCI funds for air travel for his family and home improvements to a house belonging to a close female friend

Stole US$10,000 from UCCI by cashing a check drawn on UCCI funds

Used US$20,000 belonging to the college to buy a Mitsubishi Eclipse vehicle from Tony’s Toys, for a close female friend

Submitted false invoices to UCCI to obtain tens of thousands of dollars in college funds

Dishonestly submitted paperwork claiming he was entitled to CI$90,000 in UCCI funds for additional consultancy work

Obtained a CI$70,000 salary advance by pretending it had been authorized by the UCCI board.

Mr. Moran said Syed’s crimes went undetected for long periods.

“As the nature and extent of what he had done began to come to light in early 2008, he left the Cayman Islands and quit his job, citing medical reasons. It was only after his departure that the full extent of his alleged wrongdoings began to come to light.”

Mr. Moran said Syed had joined UCCI as a computing instructor in 2003, rising to the position of president in 2006, in part as a result of his false claim to have a doctorate in computer science from the University of Victoria in Canada. A doctorate was a prerequisite for the president’s job, and Syed’s qualifications were cited by the selection committee as one of the reasons he got the position, according to Mr. Moran.

He said the “lie” about his doctorate had allowed him to claim earnings of more than CI$250,000 during his brief tenure as president.

Once he took over as president, Syed sought to develop the reputation of the college, organizing meetings with businesses and overseas schools and colleges in an effort to grow the institution, Mr. Moran said.

During that period he spent more than US$400,000 on his UCCI-issued credit cards, which the college accountant paid off without asking to see statements, according to Mr. Moran.

He said many of the expenses were legitimate, but at least half of them were not.

“When those credit card statements were finally obtained, they revealed a pattern of spending which we suggest speaks for itself,” said Mr. Moran.

“There can be no doubt that he made numerous purchases from establishments such as jewelry stores, home furnishing stores, bars, restaurants and liquor stores. He frequently used the cards while overseas and sometimes used them to buy goods from the internet.”

Outlining some of his more “glamorous purchases,” Mr. Moran said Syed had spent more than US$50,000 at Tiffany’s jewelry stores, more than US$10,000 at Diamonds Direct, nearly US$5,000 at The Ritz-Carlton spa and more than US$5,000 at Harrods of London.

He also made less extravagant purchases, using the cards to spend US$700 at Blockbuster video, US$700 at Puritan Dry Cleaners and more than US$1,000 at Blackbeard’s liquor store.

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