Former University College of the Cayman Islands president Hassan Syed testified in his own defense at his trial Thursday morning, admitting to some “negligence” in reporting expenses accrued on his university credit card but denying that he had been dishonest.
Syed is accused in a 12-count indictment of theft, obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception, and obtaining a money transfer by deception via a number of methods, including a university-issued credit card which prosecutors allege he used to make personal purchases.
Syed was asked by his attorney, Tom Price, QC, why he did not keep track of receipts for the personal items – including jewelry, travel costs, home improvements and alcohol – that accrued on his university card between 2006 and 2008.
“It was negligence on my part because of my workload and my traveling,” Syed told the jury of five women and two men. “[UCCI accountant Khemkaran Singh] did speak to me on a couple of occasions to get the [credit card] statements … and I told him he could go get them from the bank.”
Syed said it was not true that Mr. Singh was “chasing him every day” about the card statements.
“I was not being dishonest,” Syed said.
Syed told the jury that sometime in 2007, UCCI senior managers agreed to significantly expand the use of university-issued credit cards due to efforts aimed at increasing school enrollment and program offerings. These changes required many senior staff members and board of governors members to travel outside Cayman, he said, as well as make certain purchases on behalf of the school.
A credit card policy written by Mr. Singh for the use of those cards allowed their use for personal expenditure, as long as that expenditure was later reimbursed or was deducted from the individual user’s salary, the defendant said.
“Did you think it was permissible to use the card for personal expenses?” Mr. Price asked.
“You could use it, yes, the provision is there. This agreement clearly says that you can.”
Syed said it was his view that the 2007 credit card agreement was no different to the one that existed when he first assumed the presidency in 2006. However, before that time, just one card existed and was used only by the university president.
Mr. Price quizzed Syed on specific card expenditures. The defendant said more than US$2,000 was spent at a Canadian Best Buy store during 2006 to buy “IT supplies” for the university. Another purchase of CI$800 made at Harbour House Marina in Grand Cayman was for a “scuba club” that UCCI was creating, Syed said.
Other expenditures, such as an annual gym membership, were personal, the defendant said.
“How did you think that would get paid?” Mr. Price asked.
“Mr. Singh [the school accountant] would take it out of the salary or he would ask me to reimburse it,” Syed said.
“Did you think you were being dishonest?” Mr. Price asked.
“No sir,” Syed said.
Other purchases which Syed admitted he made for his girlfriend were “100 percent” personal, Syed said.
Mr. Price asked Syed if he thought those purchases were appropriate on a university credit card. The defendant replied that it would be, if he reimbursed the amounts.
“Did you think it was dishonest?” Mr. Price asked. “Definitely not dishonest,” Syed responded.
“Did you think it was appropriate?” Mr. Price asked. “Reflecting back on it, at the time, yes,” Syed said.
The prosecution’s case wrapped up earlier Thursday morning with the appearance of Royal Cayman Islands Police Inspector Rudolph Gordon, who was the senior investigator on the Syed case between late 2008 and mid-2010, when he left the RCIPS Financial Crime Unit.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Amelia Fosuhene asked Inspector Gordon whether he had attempted to contact former UCCI Board of Governors Chairman Danny Scott and former Education Minister Alden McLaughlin in connection with the investigation.
Mr. Gordon replied that he had attempted to reach both men a number of times between 2009 and 2010, showing evidence of more than half a dozen emails sent to Mr. Scott and noting that “similar efforts” were made to contact Mr. McLaughlin. Mr. Gordon said both men were mailed a list of “pro forma” questions, the same as many other witnesses in the trial.
“To date, as far as you know, has anything come back?” Ms. Fosuhene asked
“No ma’am,” Mr. Gordon said.