Mac’s gambling revealed

| 15/09/2014

(CNS): The former Cayman Islands premier, McKeeva Bush, spent many hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars gambling on slot machines during overseas business trips while he was the country's leader. The crown revealed the extent of Bush's gambling as the corruption case against him opened in Grand Court Monday. Prosecuting counsel told the jury that from the thousands of dollars he fed into the slots between July 2009 and April 2010, some of that cash came from the public purse as an advance on his government credit card. Duncan Penny, QC, said the crown's case was a “simple story of a powerful man abusing his high office” for his own benefit. He said Bush breached the public’s trust to secure a line of credit from government coffers to help cover the costs of his gambling at the casinos where he played during his travels.

Describing Bush’s gambling and use of the government card as an "investment scheme" for his own enrichment as he attempted to win, the lawyer said that the former premier could only access this extra line of credit from the public purse because of his government role.

As he presented the crown’s case against Bush and the alleged abuse of his government card to the jury, Penny outlined a pattern of behaviour in which the former premier repeatedly withdrew cash on his own personal cards, and then when those lines of credit ran out as a result of daily limits, he would turn to the government card for more cash. Bush left a paper trail of his activities not only with his own credit cards and his government-issued card, but also as a result of his casino loyalty cards.

The prosecutor said Bush used his government credit card interchangeably with his own cards in a frenzied attempt to get the cash he needed to keep gambling. 

“He used his government card as an additional weapon in his gambling armoury,” Penny told the jury, as he offered up documents showing dozens of cash withdrawals and failed attempts to get money at casinos in Florida, the Bahamas and Vegas on a selection of trips between July 2009 and April 2010.

The prosecutor said that the former premier, now leader of the opposition, also lied about his conduct and tried to disguise the cash withdrawals for gambling as legitimate expenses to pay for security when travelling. 

Listing dozens of cash withdrawals, as well as even more failed attempts to get cash from casinos during a Vegas trip, on both his own and his government-issued card, the prosecutor told the jury that it was up to them to decide if the frequent and “frantic withdrawals of huge sums of cash” in the early morning hours was to help cover the cost of gambling or to pay unnamed security guards.

The prosecutor, who is representing the Cayman Islands’ director of public prosecutions, said that the former premier was well aware that what he was doing was wrong.

In the early days, the lawyer said, Bush had paid back the cash withdrawals he had made from the casinos relatively quickly. He had told civil servants dealing with the credit card management and statements that certain amounts were for personal use and wrote the cheques.

However, as time went on and the amounts he began to access from casinos increased, as well, according to the casino paper trail, his losses, he fell back on paying off his personal tabs.

Penny told the jury that Bush knew the cards were meant only for covering legitimate government expenses as he was present at the 2001 budget meeting of Finance Committee when a motion was passed to provide credit cards for ministers and civil servants. Bush had also signed memos regarding their use when issued with his cards each time he was elected to office.

During the times when the former premier was using his government and personal cards to access cash from either ATMS or at the cashier cages on the casino floors in question, records from his casino loyalty cards indicated he was playing the slot machines. As a result, Bush left a paper trail of gambling and a paper trail of cash withdrawals that, according to the crown’s case, infer that the money he took went into the slot machines and nothing to do with legitimate government expenditure.

Although Bush is facing charges that amount to withdrawals on the government credit card of a little under $50,000, there were also many, many more unsuccessful transactions that all came within minutes of each other until he was able to access money.

The crown prosecutor said the cards Bush used were frequently declined, often as a result of his daily cash limit being exceeded, as he would begin by attempting to get two or even three thousand dollars and then keep trying until the card cleared a transaction. During the afternoons, evenings and into the small hours of the morning Bush was, according to the paper trail, frequently playing the slots using significant sums of his own money as well as the government card on the trips he took for business and pleasure.

On just one short weekend business trip to Miami, Penny said, Bush spent over $18,000 in slot machines and some 17 hours playing. But as time went on his hours at the machines grew, as did the cash amounts he took out and lost. By the time Bush was in Vegas in February 2010 he was gambling through the night and losing thousands and thousands of dollars, according to the loyalty card records.

Penny’s opening of the case against Bush continues in Grand Court One on Tuesday in a trial expected to last around four weeks. Justice Michael Mettyear, a visiting UK judge, is presiding over the case with a jury of four women and three men. Duncan Penny, QC, is instructed by the DPP’s office and Geoffrey Cox, QC, is representing Bush.

The former premier faces six counts of misconduct in public office under the common law and five counts of breach of trust under the anti-corruption law. All counts relate to Bush using ATMs or casino cashiers to withdraw money to the tune of just under $50,000 on his government credit card while traveling overseas.

Bush has emphatically denied all charges and accused the crown of pursuing a politically motivated case against him on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Check back to CNS throughout the next month for full coverage on the Bush trial.

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Category: Crime

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