Hassan Syed, the former president of the University College of the Cayman Islands, insisted Friday that he had not instructed the college’s accountant to lie to the auditor general’s office about his travel expenses.
Syed acknowledged he had emailed the accountant, telling him to inform auditors that all travel and hotel bills on the college credit card statements were work related.
He also accepted he had used the card to book multiple personal trips with female friends to Jamaica, Mexico and Panama.
But he rejected prosecutor Patrick Moran’s suggestion that he had been lying in an effort to mislead the auditor general, who was looking into the college’s finances.
“I don’t know what information I had at that time, I don’t remember the context,” he said.
The auditor general’s investigation into the college’s finances led to a draft report, shown to Syed in April 2007.
The former professor, on his fifth day in the witness box during his Grand Court trial, acknowledged that the report highlighted numerous concerns over his actions, including the credit card spending.
He accepted that he had left the island on a flight to Toronto five days after being presented with the report. But he insisted this was for medical reasons.
“You had no intention of returning to the Cayman Islands, did you?” prosecutor Patrick Moran asked.
“At that time, I did not know what was going to happen,” said Syed.
He acknowledged he had emptied his Cayman bank accounts of all but $800, but said that did not mean he intended to leave for good.
He said he had resigned in May for health reasons.
Syed also denied presenting the auditors with a fake credit card policy during their investigation in an effort to explain the spending.
Shown the document, which indicated multiple UCCI staff could use the card for various expenses, including gifts for visiting dignitaries, he said he was not the author.
He accepted that the electronic record of the document showed it had been prepared by someone with the username HSyed, but insisted, “I don’t know where this document came from.”
Syed was questioned Friday about more than US$400,000 of spending on his university credit card during his 20 months as president. He is charged with theft of more than US$200,000 from UCCI in relation to around half of that expenditure, which prosecutors allege was for personal use. He also faces 11 other charges connected to his use of college funds.
Syed has accepted that multiple transactions, including holidays, meals and gifts of jewelry for his girlfriend, were personal. But he has testified that an arrangement was in place for him to use the card for personal expenses and for the college’s accountant, Khemkaran Singh, to seek reimbursement.
He said he believed Mr. Singh could access the credit card statements and make deductions from his salary, as necessary.
Under questioning from Mr. Moran on Friday, Syed acknowledged that the accountant had emailed him in May 2007 asking him to account for around US$90,000 spending on the college card, US$40,000 of which the Crown says was personal.
He accepted that he had not done so and that he had gone on to spend another $25,000 on the college card for personal use over the next six weeks.
The prosecutor reeled off a list of personal expenses in the months that followed, including thousands of dollars of jewelry, clothes and a Gucci handbag for his girlfriend, home improvements for himself and his girlfriend and a pharmacy bill for Viagra.
“By the end of September, $120,000 in personal expenditure and not one receipt to Mr. Singh?” Mr. Moran asked.
Mr. Syed said, “I don’t remember giving any receipts.”
He said the accountant would have had access to the statements and his assistant would have had some receipts but he did not know how many or which ones.
In his evidence in chief, Syed accepted he had been negligent about record keeping but said he had not been dishonest. He said there was an agreement in place that the card could be used for personal expenditure and reimbursements made.
On Thursday afternoon, Syed was questioned about a salary advance of just over $70,000 he had been given by the college in January 2007.
Under questioning from Mr. Moran, he accepted that he had used $60,000 of this money to pay off a student loan for his then-girlfriend, Katrina Parchment.
He acknowledged that he had asked for the salary advance for “medical reasons” but suggested that once he had the money, it was up to him to decide how it was used since he would be paying it back.
He claimed the salary advance had been approved by Conor O’Dea, then-president of the UCCI board of governors, and denied forging emails to fool the accountant into paying the advance. Earlier in the trial, Mr. O’Dea testified that he was unaware of the advance until after the fact. Mr. O’Dea said he had not approved it, but acknowledged he had set up an agreed schedule of repayment when it was brought to his attention several months later. He said he believed it was for medical expenses and he was sympathetic to Syed.
Syed completed his evidence Friday. The defense is expected to call character witnesses on Monday, with closing statements from both sides later in the week.