Hassan Syed was a “manipulative and dishonest” individual who stole from the people of the Cayman Islands, a judge said Friday as he sentenced the former college president to eight years behind bars.
Syed defrauded the University College of the Cayman Islands of more than CI$700,000 during his brief tenure at the helm of the institution between 2006 and 2008.
He pretended to have a doctorate to gain the president’s job and six-figure annual salary and then used his college credit card to rack up more than US$200,000 in personal expenses, including expensive jewelry, exotic overseas trips and a car for his girlfriend.
Syed was also convicted of forging documents and falsely claiming expenses in connection with work to set up the Civil Service College of the Cayman Islands. He fled the island after his crimes began to be uncovered. In 2014 he was extradited from Switzerland and was convicted at trial here earlier this year of 12 charges of theft and obtaining financial gain by deception.
Justice Philip St. John-Stevens, during sentencing on Friday over a shaky video link that faded in and out as he spoke, said Syed had betrayed the trust placed in him and damaged the reputation of the Cayman Islands.
“The evidence in this case has demonstrated that you are an intelligent, persuasive, manipulative and dishonest individual. Your presidency at UCCI was obtained by dishonesty and was riddled with acts of dishonesty throughout the whole of your tenure,” he said.
“You employed a number of deceitful mechanisms to defraud UCCI and the Civil Service College of more than $700,000. Your methods were, in instances, sophisticated, utilizing at times false documents and emails.
“The money or monies-worth that you obtained, you stole, was public money. Money that each and every citizen of the Cayman Islands would expect to be used for the benefit of their islands and its people. In effect it was their money. “It should have been used to build the education system of the Cayman Islands.”
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 after a trial that concluded in March.
Justice St. John-Stevens delivered individual sentences, ranging from one to three years for 11 of the charges, ordering that they run concurrently with the principle sentence of eight years for the charge of theft, which relates to the US$200,000 Syed spent on the college credit cards.
He was given no reduction in sentence for the time spent incarcerated awaiting extradition from Switzerland.
The judge said Syed had fled the island “as the net closed in” and had later contested his extradition on spurious grounds.
He did give a 127-day discount in sentence in recognition of the time Syed had spent on bail in the Cayman Islands on an ankle monitor-controlled curfew, awaiting trial. However, he said he used his discretion to limit this reduction because Syed had drawn out the pre-trial process, contributing to delays in the case. He also recommended that Syed be deported after serving his jail term.
He said, “You have compromised the good standing of this island here and in the wider international arena in the context of providing tertiary education. Your actions fly in the face of a country whose very constitution declares it is one that “fosters the highest standards of integrity in the dealings of the public and private sectors.”
A confiscation hearing to determine what assets, if any, can be recovered from Syed will be scheduled at a later date.