College administrator signed blank checks for Syed

The provost of the University College of the Cayman Islands signed blank checks for former president Hassan Syed, trusting that it was for college business, Grand Court heard Friday.

Robert Geoffroy, in a police statement read to the court in Syed’s trial, acknowledged he had co-signed three college checks for the president.

“He did not tell me what the purpose was,” Mr. Geoffroy said in the statement.

“I did sign blank checks on trust. At that time, I had no reason to believe they were being used for anything other than college business.”

One of the checks was for $20,000, the court heard.

In his opening statement at the start of the case, prosecutor Patrick Moran said Syed had misappropriated cash from the college by convincing Mr. Geoffroy to co-sign a number of checks and then used the money for personal expenses.

The provost, the senior administrator at the college, also gave evidence of Syed’s work at the college, saying he was well liked on the campus. In the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, he said, Syed, who was a lecturer at the time, had been at the forefront of efforts to get the college up and running, crawling through the ceiling and helping to fix damaged buildings.

“People really liked him and really supported him for president,” he said.

Once Syed became president, he said, their relationship changed, and he was “hardly at the college, always on trips, this way or that way.”

Mr. Geoffroy acknowledged that he had not raised any concerns about Syed with the UCCI board of governors until after Syed had left the island, saying he did not know he had the right to do so.

Syed’s executive assistant, Leigh Smellie, giving evidence later on Friday, testified that staff had been worried when Syed left the college, citing medical reasons.

“At one stage, I do remember staff being concerned and taking up collections to send money to him for his medical treatment,” she said.

Ms. Smellie gave evidence that she had made travel arrangements for Syed frequently for both business and personal trips.

She confirmed that she had booked a ticket for him to leave the Cayman Islands for Toronto, via Kingston, on April 22, 2008, believing it was for a trip to receive medical treatment.

Syed did not return to the Cayman Islands after that trip, resigning as president, citing medical reasons shortly afterward.

Civil Service College

Earlier on Friday, senior civil servant Mary Rodrigues was called to the witness box to explain some of the background of the Civil Service College project, a collaboration between government and UCCI.

Ms. Rodrigues said the Portfolio of the Civil Service has signed a contract with UCCI to help set up and run the college, which was designed to help civil servants advance their careers.

Syed is facing multiple charges of dishonestly obtaining cash in connection with the project, including by falsely representing that he was entitled to around $100,000 in consultancy fees.

Ms. Rodrigues said government had signed contracts to share costs on the project with UCCI. She said some of the contracts did include hourly payments for senior UCCI staff, but there was no direct contract with any specific individuals.

“All agreements were with UCCI as a corporate body and not with any individuals at the college,” she said.

She acknowledged that she had received an email from Syed in May 2007, indicating various payments due to UCCI for the work done on the project to that point.

She agreed that this included a claim that Syed had, at that point, personally done 240 hours of work at $400-an-hour for a total cost of $96,000. It included claims for work done by other members of staff at different rates for a total bill to government of $231,000.

She confirmed that Portfolio of Civil Service financial records showed a payment of $231,000 being made to the college shortly after, but said she had no personal involvement in authorizing this payment or any other payments, which were the remit of the department’s chief financial officer.

Asked about a later document, dated March 2008, which she signed at Syed’s request, indicating 700 hours of work completed on the project, she said she understood this was a net total for the duration of the project. Based on Syed’s email, she said she believed it was something the college required, after the fact, for its own internal accounting procedures.

“My understanding is that I was signing to certify the total hours worked; 700 hours worked was reasonable over the life of the project – over a period of almost two years,” she said.

The Crown has alleged that Syed used this document to claim “consultancy fees” from UCCI that he was not entitled to.

The laptop

In evidence read to the court on Thursday afternoon, UCCI’s IT manager testified that he had been asked by Syed, after his departure, to erase everything on his laptop and delete his files from the college’s computer server.

Greg Fiedler said Syed told him he was away on medical leave. He said he had agreed to clear some files from Syed’s computer so that his personal information was not accessible to the acting president. But he said he had refused a later request from Syed to delete files completely from the college server.

“I didn’t like what he was asking me to do,” he said in his police statement, read to the court.

He said Syed had called from Canada with the instructions, but he had not consented to the request and retained the data, later providing it to police on hard drives.

The case continues on Monday.

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