The police financial crimes unit is investigating reports that a senior employee of the University College of the Cayman Islands misappropriated funds from the higher education facility.
Concerns were flagged by UCCI financial controllers sparking an internal investigation which led to the employee being ‘terminated’ and the matter referred to the auditor general and the police, school leaders confirmed this week.
The Cayman Compass is aware of the identity of the individual under investigation but is not publishing their name for legal reasons, as no arrest has been made and no criminal charges have been brought at this point.
A police spokesperson said, “I can confirm that the RCIPS Financial Crime Investigation Unit is conducting an investigation into a matter reported by the UCCI.”
Beverly Shuford, UCCI’s vice president of finance, said “possible irregularities by an employee” were discovered as a result of “enhanced financial controls” it had put in place.
“Following an internal investigation, UCCI notified the financial crimes unit and the office of the Auditor General of the alleged misappropriations by that employee who was then terminated,” she said in a statement, in response to inquiries from the Compass on Monday.
“Subsequent to the commencement of the investigation the now former employee has left the island.”
Shuford, who took up her post in March, added that UCCI officials were cooperating with auditors and law enforcement on the investigation and working closely with the auditor general to complete the financial statements for the college for 2020.
She said she was unable to give details of the alleged irregularities or of the amounts involved, saying the audit process and investigation are ongoing.
UCCI, as a statutory authority which relies on public funds and donations, is subject to an annual audit.
Auditor General Sue Winspear confirmed “irregularities were found” during the audit of UCCI’s 2020 financial statements, which took place in March and April of this year. The matter was referred by UCCI to the police and the “risk level” of the audit was raised, sparking a more thorough investigation into all of the school’s financial transactions.
“We are looking at all areas of UCCI’s activities through audit and because there have been irregularities found, the audit risk is now increased as is the amount of audit work that needs to be undertaken,” Winspear said in response to emailed questions from the Compass.
The auditor general’s report to the UCCI board will be made public once it is complete and the directors have had a chance to respond to the recommendations, she added.
UCCI president Stacy McAfee said the recent allegations had emerged as a result of improved financial controls that had been brought in at UCCI. She said the college’s staff had identified the potential concern and brought it to the attention of the auditors.
“Over the last two years we have really been reviewing every aspect of the university with the goal of strengthening and building on the success of the past,” she said.
“Within that process one of the areas we identified as needing improvement was financial controls.”
McAfee, who took over as president in early 2019, said the school was reviewing and seeking to improve every aspect of the way it operates as it prepares for future growth.
She sought to assure donors to UCCI that their money was protected, saying that controls had been put in place to ensure those donations were ring-fenced and spent directly on the specific purpose for which they were intended.
It is not the first time UCCI has been embroiled in a financial controversy.
Former president Hassan Syed was jailed for eight years in 2017 for defrauding the institution of more than $700,000. Syed pretended to have a doctorate to gain the president’s job and six-figure annual salary. He then used his college credit card to rack up more than $200,000 in personal expenses, including expensive jewellery, exotic overseas trips and a car for his girlfriend, during his time at the helm of the institution between 2006 and 2008.
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, but was extradited from Switzerland in 2014.