Almost a decade after he fled the island, former University College of the Cayman Islands President Hassan Syed faced trial for defrauding the establishment of more than CI$700,000.
Over the course of a five-week trial, the details of Mr. Syed’s scam finally emerged. The erstwhile professor pretended to have a doctorate to gain the president’s job and six-figure annual salary, 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.
He 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, telling a few close friends that he was seriously ill – a claim that prosecutors did not seek to challenge at trial.
Mr. Syed was on the run from Cayman authorities for six years before being caught in Switzerland and extradited to the Cayman Islands in 2014.
It took another three years for the matter to come to court for trial and on March 9 this year, after five weeks of evidence and two days of deliberation, a jury unanimously found him guilty on all 12 counts against him.
Justice Philip St. John-Stevens passed an eight-year jail sentence in August, describing Mr. Syed as a “manipulative and dishonest” individual who stole from the people of the Cayman Islands.
“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. It should have been used to build the education system of the Cayman Islands,” he told him.
Mr. Syed, who was in the witness box for five days during the trial, sought to claim that he had permission to use the card for personal expenses and that he had a repayment scheme that the UCCI accountant was in charge of implementing.
His lawyer, Tom Price, summing up Mr. Syed’s defense at trial, said his client had been “pathetic” but was not a thief. He said he had “overborrowed” on the UCCI credit card but had always intended to pay the money back.
He said Mr. Syed had acted recklessly while “in the throes of a passionate love affair” with a much younger woman.
The jury found him guilty of two counts of theft, seven counts of obtaining money transfers by deception, and three counts of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception.
In an intriguing sub-plot to the Syed saga, Premier Alden McLaughlin and broadcaster Hurley’s Media were publicly admonished over a radio interview that threatened to derail the trial before it reached the jury.
Lawyers for Mr. McLaughlin apologized during a brief court appearance for what the premier accepted were “ill-judged and incautious” remarks made on the Rooster FM morning talk show midway through the trial. The premier referred to Mr. Syed as a “scamp” and questioned the evidence of a police officer who had testified in the case, leading to a near three-day delay in the trial and an application from the defense to have the jury dismissed.
Neil Timms, QC, who appeared for Mr. McLaughlin, said his client had reacted to protect his reputation following news broadcasts about the police officer’s testimony that Mr. McLaughlin had declined to give a statement in the Syed case.
“It was an error of judgment in the heat of a virulent election campaign,” said Mr. Timms.