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Crown: Syed Stole To Fund Lavish Lifestyle

Crown: Syed Stole To Fund Lavish Lifestyle

GEORGE TOWN, Grand Cayman (CNS) -- The former president of the University College of the Cayman Islands was accused by prosecutors Thursday of stealing around CI$550,000 from the college to line his own pockets and fuel a lavish lifestyle.

As Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran began the case for the crown against Hassan Iftikar Syed, he told the jury that the crimes began when Syed, who was then a lecturer at the college, falsely claimed he had a PhD, which secured him the top job at the university and paved the way for his criminal behaviour. Along with the salary and benefits he gained, the post enabled him to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from UCCI in less than two years and leave the island before the extent of his crime was realised.

In his detailed opening statement to the jury, which began a day late due to legal arguments, Moran outlined the massive amount of transactions Syed made on his two UCCI credit cards that were clearly not business related. From tens of thousands of dollars spent on jewellery at Tiffany’s and other stores to lavish trips and shopping sprees around the word, Syed exploited his position for his own gain, Moran said. He spent money on gifts, flowers and luxury holidays for several women, lunches with friends, booze, and even clothes at high-end stores.

“As president of the UCCI, Mr Syed had a responsibility to act in the best interests of the institution and to ensure that UCCI funds were not abused for any purpose,” Moran told the jury. “As you become more familiar with the evidence in this case, we suggest that it will become clear that many of Mr Syed’s actions were motivated not by a desire to fulfill his responsibilities as president, but by a desire to live a lavish lifestyle.”

The prosecutor explained how Syed manipulated the college’s accountant and, as his boss, managed to avoid ever producing his credit card statements, despite the accountant’s repeated requests. As he used the college credit cards more and more, not just for UCCI business but for his own bills, trips and shopping, including day-to-day supermarket purchases and car repairs to his own BMW, the cards were “maxed out”, but he convinced the accountant that the spending was college business and got the cards repeatedly topped up.

Moran outlined just some of the hundreds of transactions Syed made between September 2006 until March 2008 that he said were not legitimate UCCI expenses. He explained that the crown had given the former college boss the benefit of the doubt on many, many transactions, as there was no paper trail or other corroborating evidence, but even so, the crown still claims Syed spent over $209,000 on the college credit cards that were for his own personal gain. He said this amount was broadly supported either by paperwork, emails or other circumstantial evidence.

But Moran said the lavish spending on the credit cards was not the only money that Syed stole. He used cheques and UCCI funds to pay for air tickets for himself and family members, for home improvements and furniture, as well as a car for a girlfriend. He submitted false invoices and fee claims for purchases and consultancy work relating to the development of the civil service college. Just before he quit his job and left the jurisdiction, Syed falsified documents to make it appear that the UCCI board had authorised a $70,000 salary advance, Moran said. All in all, the crown claims Syed managed to steal more than $300,000 of UCCI funds via these various methods.

Syed, who is a Pakistani-Canadian, has denied all twelve of the dishonesty charges that he is facing. He has pleaded not guilty to three counts of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception, one of which relates to his false claim of having a PhD, which secured him the promotion as UCCI president. He also pleaded not guilty to two counts of theft, and seven counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception, which the crown says reflect the different ways he allegedly stole the cash.

The case adjourned Thursday afternoon until Monday, when the trial is expected to continue for around five to six weeks. Moran is being assisted by crown counsel Toyin Salako, while Syed is represented by Thomas Price QC and Amelia Fosuhene from Brady Attorneys. The case is being presided over by visiting judge, Justice Philip St John-Stevens.