Nearly a decade after he left the Cayman Islands claiming to be suffering from serious health issues, former college president Hassan Syed has been convicted of stealing more than $500,000 from his former employer.
Syed was found guilty Thursday on all 12 counts against him relating to his time at the helm of the University College of the Cayman Islands between 2006 and 2008.
At the conclusion of the trial, Judge Philip St. John Stevens called representatives for Premier Alden McLaughlin and Rooster FM to court to explain comments made in a radio interview midway through the trial, which led to a lengthy delay in proceedings. (See related story).
It took a jury of five women and two men just over two days to reach unanimous guilty verdicts on each of the charges against Syed.
The defendant, clutching prayer beads, remained impassive as the jury foreman announced the verdicts just after 1 p.m.
Syed was allowed to spend the lunch hour inside the court building with a small group of supporters before his lawyer made an application for bail pending sentence, again citing his health concerns.
Judge Philip St. John-Stevens said he accepted evidence from the prison’s doctor that Syed was in remission from intestinal cancer and needed further tests and monitoring in relation to other health concerns, including severe headaches, that would be exacerbated by the shock of the first weeks in prison.
But he denied bail, saying Syed was facing a lengthy custodial sentence and represented a flight risk.
“The evidence has demonstrated he is intelligent, persuasive, manipulative and deeply dishonest,” he said.
“His 18-month presidency was obtained by dishonesty and was riddled with acts of dishonesty. He employed a number of deceitful actions to deprive that college in excess, certainly of $500,000.”
He added that Syed had created false documents and invoices to obtain funds from the college and fled the jurisdiction when his dishonesty was about to be exposed.
For those reasons, the judge said, he believed Syed had the capacity to dishonestly secure a means to leave the jurisdiction if granted bail.
Syed’s lawyer, Amelia Fosuhene, citing evidence from the prison’s doctor, who has treated Syed over the past two years and was called to give evidence in the bail hearing, had asked for her client to be given time to have tests he needed, including an MRI to screen for possible brain aneurysms.
Toyin Salako, for the Crown, objected to bail, saying Syed could still receive treatment in prison.
Syed, in handcuffs, was led into a waiting police car and was taken into custody. A sentencing hearing will take place in April. After a trial that lasted nearly six weeks, Syed was convicted of two counts of theft, seven counts of obtaining money transfers by deception, and three counts of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception.
The professor lied about his qualifications to get the president’s job in 2006 and then used his college credit card for more than $200,000 of personal purchases, including exotic holidays and expensive jewelry for his girlfriend, the court heard.
He also spent college funds on a car and bathroom furnishings for the same woman.
The jury heard evidence that Syed had created false invoices to claim more than $73,000 in refunds for products he had never bought in connection with a project to set up the Civil Service College.
He also filed time sheets for hundreds of hours of consultancy work on the same project, falsely claiming just under $85,000 in fees from the college, which he was not entitled to.
Syed also lied to UCCI’s accountant to obtain a $70,000 salary advance before fleeing Cayman in early 2008.
It emerged during trial that the bulk of his ill-gotten gains were spent on his girlfriend. Syed’s lawyers argued that he was a middle-aged man, smitten with a much younger woman, who had foolishly showered her with gifts but always intended to pay the money back. They said he had been negligent but not dishonest.
Prosecutors argued that Syed had dishonestly stolen the cash to live a lavish lifestyle and then fled the island when his crimes were exposed in 2008.
He was extradited to the Cayman Islands from Switzerland after being located in 2014.