Crown: Syed bought roses, diamond rings with college cash

Used UCCI credit card to pay for gifts for female friends

The former president of the University College of the Cayman Islands used college funds to shower gifts, including diamond rings and red roses for Valentine’s Day, on a number of “close female friends,” prosecutor Patrick Moran claimed in Grand Court Thursday.

Hassan Syed was dishonestly spending more than US$14,000 a month on his college credit cards during the final year of his presidency, Mr. Moran said.

The prosecutor spent Thursday afternoon walking the jury through a detailed schedule of nearly 300 transactions on two college-funded credit cards.

Mr. Moran highlighted a total of US$209,189,86 in unauthorized personal spending by Mr. Syed during his time at the helm of the college between 2006 and 2008.

The credit card expenses relate to a charge of theft against Syed, one of 12 charges on the indictment. Syed has denied the offenses.

Mr. Moran, opening the prosecution’s case Thursday afternoon, highlighted a series of emails between Mr. Syed and a number of women which he said were “clearly linked” to the credit card expenditure.

“Some of those emails show Mr. Syed was spending money on others,” Mr. Moran said. “It will not take long when you look at those emails to realize that Mr. Syed’s relationship with the people on whom he was spending UCCI money was personal.

“A small number of those recipients of his apparent generosity appear to have been more than just friends.”

The pattern of spending highlighted by Mr. Moran includes overseas business trips, meals and other legitimate expenditure. But the prosecutor said the records showed that Syed quickly began to combine business with pleasure, paying for weekend breaks, jewelry and flowers for his female friends.

He said emails showed Syed planning a trip to Jamaica in November 2006, with a “female associate,” while credit card transactions suggested he was using the cards for personal expenses during that trip.

He returned to Jamaica again, later in November, apparently with a different woman, a member of staff at the Hilton in Kingston, with whom the professor had sparked a “close personal relationship,” according to Mr. Moran. This time, he said, UCCI footed the bill for flights and a two-night stay at the Sandals resort.

Citing an email from the woman to Mr. Syed sent the following Monday, the prosecutor added, “It appears clear that Mr. Syed enjoyed a pleasant weekend with this particular woman and that he did so at the expense of UCCI.”

The card was used again in December to pay for an all-inclusive trip for two to the Negril Inn in Jamaica over Christmas, again an apparent trip with the same female friend.

In early 2007, Mr. Moran said the emails showed Mr. Syed striking up a relationship with another woman, who worked in the Portfolio of the Civil Service.

He said Syed had treated the woman to a meal at The Ritz-Carlton, later taking her to an event at the same location, according to the email chain. Credit card records show Syed spending US$1,200 of college funds on a diamond ring the next day and spending another US$6,000 on jewelry a few weeks later.

Syed later purchased tickets for an ocean suite room in Jamaica, referring to the woman as his fiancé in emails, Mr. Moran said.

The prosecutor detailed a series of further transactions including trips to The Ritz-Carlton spa and jewelry purchases for a number of women, one of whom he said appeared to be a former student.

The women were not named in court and it was not always clear which woman Mr. Moran was referring to.

In September 2007, Syed used the card and other college funds to buy a king-size mattress and a four-poster bed, the prosecutor alleged.

In the run-up to Christmas 2007, he bought 13 separate items of jewelry, ranging in price from US$150 to US$2,150, from Tiffany’s jewelry store. He later traveled to London on official business, spending a further US$5,000 at Harrods during that trip.

The spending on trips, jewelry, home furnishings and car repairs both for himself and female friends continued in early 2008, the prosecutor said.

On Feb. 13, 2008, he spent US$150 on red roses.

“This transaction, the day before St. Valentine’s day, perhaps makes it clear that this was again expenditure unrelated to UCCI,” Mr. Moran said.

In his time as president of UCCI, between August 2006 and May 2008, Syed is alleged to have dishonestly spent just over US$200,000 – an average of US$11,000 every month – on UCCI-funded cards.

Mr. Moran said the spending increased over time and, in the final 12 months of his presidency, Syed spent US$172,000 – more than US$14,000 a month – on the college cards.

The credit card transactions relate to a single count of theft on the 12-count indictment. Syed is also accused of pretending to have a doctorate in order to get the president’s position, which came with a CI$132,000 salary, and dishonestly spending the college’s money in a variety of other ways. In all, he is alleged to have stolen more than CI$500,000 from UCCI.

Prosecutor Mr. Moran was scheduled to conclude his opening statement Monday morning.

Syed denies the offenses.

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