Archive for September 17th, 2014

Mac kept ‘schtum’ during interview with cops

| 17/09/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Following his arrest in December 2012 the then premier of the Cayman Islands exercised his right to silence when interviewed by the police. As the crown continued to present its case against Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush for the misuse of his government credit card in casinos, the jury heard Tuesday that the veteran politician told the police that he believed their investigation was a political witch-hunt designed to discredit not just him but the Cayman Islands and he wouldn’t answer their questions. Relating the narrative of the case to the court, Duncan Penny QC said that Bush had, however, spoken about the cash withdrawals publicly, claiming it was to cover security costs.

Before his arrest but after becoming aware that he was under investigation regarding his credit card use he began telling his colleagues that he had made cash withdrawals in casinos to get personal purchases of medicines and as he didn’t have PIN numbers or had problems with PINs on his own cards he had used the government card.

Penny said that Bush refused to speak with the police or answer their questions on two occasions, keeping quiet, he said, on advice of counsel. On the first occasion he said, “I am of the opinion that this is a witch-hunt designed to tarnish me and the Cayman Islands. I have done nothing wrong and I do not wish to say anything. Bush maintained the same position the following day when he was re-interviewed before being released on bail.  

After his arrest, however, he spoke publicly about the allegations. Bush said that he had used the money to pay for personal security protection when he was travelling. He said that he had been threatened and advised that when overseas he should have an armed security detail. As government was not prepared to foot the bill for that he paid for it himself but sometimes he used the government credit card to withdraw cash to pay these armed guards. He said that he did not want to give details about the people as he needed to keep that information secure.

The lawyer told the jury that it would be up to them to decide if the cash taken out on the casino floors in the middle of the night, while his loyalty cards recording him playing slot machines, was to pay unnamed guards or for gambling.

Penny said that Bush’s claim regarding the guards was never mentioned at the time he incurred the debt and he never once mentioned the gambling that he was doing at the time he was making the numerous cash withdrawals on the overseas trips. The lawyer asked the jury to consider why Bush needed to conceal the fact he was gambling if the money was being used legitimately and as hehas suggested publicly since that there was no policy and “anything goes” with the government cards.

Bush had avoided talking about the gambling, Penny suggested, as he knew that what he had done was wrong because if what he was doing was above board he had no need to lie.

The lawyer recalled interviews Bush had given to the media where he made the claims about needing to finance his armed security. He then also revealed a meeting that Bush had just after his arrest and before he was ousted from office with Kenneth Jefferson, the Financial Secretary, as well Sonia McLaughlin, the chief officer in the finance ministry at the time.

Bush had called and asked Jefferson to come to his home. According to notes taken by Jefferson and a statement he gave to police, the financial secretary said Bush had given an explanation for his spending on the credit card.

He said he had bought books for his own and the cabinet office as well as crockery and that he had paid for personal security. He also told Jefferson that he had difficulty with PINs on his own cards so he couldn’t use an ATM but he could get cash easily in a casino. Although he not mentioned the gambling, he said he had since paid back all the money.

During the meeting Bush also said he wanted the financial secretary to get all of the statements and documents relating to government credit cards except for Cayman Airways and the Attorney General and the DPP.

He asked Jefferson to organize an independent review but he told the financial secretary that he did not want the office of the auditor general or the internal audit office in the Treasury to conduct the work. Instead he was to find an independent agency. Bush also told Jefferson to get together the information on the running costs of Government House and expenses for the governor and the police commissioner as well as his credit card.

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Crime plan down to CS bosses

| 17/09/2014 | 17 Comments

(CNS): Following recent concerns raised by politicians, local business owners and the wider public over the spike in violent burglaries and robberies, Robert Lewis, the man responsible for coordinating the country’s Crime Reduction Strategy said a number of important measures had already been implemented in the local war on crime. The Chamber of Commerce president has called for a meeting with the National Security Council (NSC) and queried what it has been doing for the last five years, but Lewis told CNS that senior civil servants have responsibility for implementing the various strategies that fall within their ministry. While most of them are long term, some have already been implemented and are having a measure of success.

He said it was the Cabinet policy unit, which he heads, that is monitoring and coordinating these initiatives but the day to day implementation of relevant policies to cut crime lays in the hands of specific ministry and portfolio bosses depending on the type of initiative or project.

Lewisexplained that the Crime Reduction Strategy, which was based on a report commissioned by the Security Council, has four pillars. These include early intervention; reducing re-offending; situational prevention; and enforcement.

“While all four are important to address, for any meaningful long term reduction in crime to happen, early intervention and reducing re-offending are critical,” he said.

The long term strategies aimed at addressing these priority issues include the outreach programme “Prison, Me No Way”, which has been renamed "Youth Act". This is a project where police and prison officers address students in schools under “lock-down” conditions, where their freedom is temporarily restricted, giving them a taste of prison life. “This early intervention programme has had much positive feedback resulting from the collaborative effort of the Youth Act organisation, Ministry of Education, Department of Education, schools, police and prison officials,” Lewis stated.

Performance targets have also been developed to define success in addressing recidivism, he explained. 

“This should help all stakeholders in understanding targets and tailoring programmes accordingly,” he said, adding that the Ministry of Home and Community Affairs is playing the key role in this area of reducing re-offending.

A third element is the on-site farm at HMP Northward, which helps with rehabilitation of offenders.

Another implemented strategy is a domestic violence prevention task force consisting of the Family Support Unit, the Ministry of Community Affairs, Gender & Housing, the Department of Counselling Services, the Department of Children and Family Services and the Crisis Centre and schedule regular meetings.

Lewis said that these strategies are being monitored and adapted where necessary and some changes took place with the restructuring of ministries after the 2013 elections. He also warned that some components of the CRS could also be affected by the recommendations of the public service rationalization project

Lewis, who was recruited in November 2011 to fill the post of director of the Policy Coordination Unit, said it is part of his job to coordinate the implementation of the Crime Reduction Strategy (CRS) under the oversight of the National Security Council (NSC) but implementation responsibility for the relevant parts of the CRS have now become part of the annual performance agreements for chief officers.  Lewis said updates are periodically sought and received by the Cabinet Office from all the relevant ministries and portfolios in relation to progress in implementing the reduction strategy components and in turn this is reported back to the council.

However, Lewis also noted that the NSC, as the responsible oversight entity, can amend or create new components, informed by public opinion, regional or international best practice, resources, and any relevant recent activities such as the rationalization of government.

When the CRS was first made public the current premier (leader of the opposition at the time), Alden McLaughlin, who was a member of the NSC, said that if people were hoping for a quick fix from the report which shaped the strategy they would be disappointed. That was more than three years ago. Since then crime statistics have fluctuated but by and large Cayman is bucking the trend of other western nations where violent and serious crime is falling. 

Home invasions and aggravated burglaries, robberies of small businesses and street muggings appear to be on the increase and little progress, if any at all, appears to have been made on the issue of recidivism, which has been recognised as a significant problem for many years.

With so many people in the local community criminalised because of minor offences, such as consumption and possession of small amounts of ganja, finding work in both government and the private sector becomes almost impossible, which drives many of these people, who were law abiding citizens except for their ganja use, into real crime.

Finding ways to remove criminal records for those convicted of drug offences and having government lead by example and begin employing ex-offenders is seen by many as a much quicker fix to some of the problems.

See the original report on the CRS document below.

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Bush ran up $33k debt

| 17/09/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS):As the former premier’s slot machine gambling appeared to intensify in the early months of 2010, the crown said, McKeeva Bush ran up a debt of over $33,000 withdrawing cash on his Cayman Islands Government credit card to play in casinos in the US and the Bahamas. During a week’s trip to Vegas in February, Bush was gambling hard and withdrew over $12,000 cash on the card and just a few weeks later on a short official trip to the Bahamas and Miami he touched the card for more than $17,000, the court heard Tuesday as Bush's trial continued. These amounts were on top of an existing and mounting cash debt already on the card. At that time, the crown said, Bush hadn’t made any payments back to government since December 2009, leaving the public purse to carry the debt burden.

During the second day of the leader of the opposition’s trial for corruption and misconduct offences the jury heard that Bush’s efforts to get cash intensified in 2010, as did his hours at the slots as well as his losses

Counsel representing the crown, Duncan Penny QC told the jury that while Bush paid back some of the $33,000 several weeks after his gambling trips, there was a sum of more than $10,000 outstanding, which remained that way for more than two and a half years. It was not until the premier learned that his credit card statements were being investigated by police that he paid back the remaining debt, Penny told the court, as he began to wrap up his opening statement, describing the crown’s case relating to the abuse of Bush’s government corporate credit card.

Penny detailed the major withdrawals during two trips in 2010, where Bush’s use of his government card across the casinos grew as he accessed much larger amounts, including his single largest cash withdrawal on the corporate card in Florida in March, when he cashed $4,000 on the casino floor.

Having lost over $57,000 in Vegas during a week-long personal trip, which he had combined with a brief official appearance at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where he also gambled, Bush lost a further $45,000 in Florida a month later. He also was said to have lost an unknown amount in the Bahamas, where he was drawing money from various casinos. All of this was adding to his own personal credit card debts as well as the mounting personal bill on his CIG card.

Describing the acceleration in the credit card debt, as he completed the summary of the crown’s case, Penny explained that Bush had begun to use the cashier system on the casino floors and sign for the credit card cash advances rather than use the ATMs. The lawyer said this was because Bush was able to access more cash that way than via the teller machines, which limited his daily cash amounts.

“The defendant became wise to the fact that the credit card was limited at the ATM to just $1,000 per day,” he said, explaining that Bush began using the cashier services where he could sign for cash. Having started the previous July taking $500 here and $100 there on the government card, Bush was now making withdrawals in the $1000s.

The lawyers said that the money Bush was “so keen to get his hands on was going back intothe hungry machines” as he added to his losses.

Following the loss of more than a quarter of a million dollars since July 2009 of his own money as well as what he had borrowed from the public purse, the court heard that Bush appeared to be in no hurry to pay back what he owed when he returned from the March trip.

On his return from the Bahamas and Florida, having taken well over $17,000 in cash on the casino floors or from ATMs during the four day trip, which was for tourism related business, he made no immediate payments when he was sent the reconciliation memo as usual in the immediate wake of the official travel. Despite knowing, the crown’s attorney claimed, that the money he had taken on that card was not for any legitimate business purpose, Bush made no effort to make prompt payment to return the public money.

However, some six weeks later he made the first of three random payments.

The first was for CI$9,000 on 1 April then three weeks later a second cheque was written for US$13,000 and shortly after one for a CI$1000. A further trip after that in which he drew just $1,000 in cash from a Florida casino while playing the slots, according to the loyalty card, he left an estimated debt of just over CI$10,000 which remained that way for about two and a half years.

Despite efforts being made by some civil servants to press Bush to reconcile his credit card either with receipts or a written explanation or to pay back outstanding personal sums, there was no money forthcoming from the premier until the matter was under investigation by the police.

In early November 2012 the police issued a production order to the deputy governor for the premier’s credit card statements, which were handed over to the investigating officers. Bush appears to have heard about the investigation into his cards and called Franz Manderson, the deputy governor, to ask him if his statements had been given to the police, which the top civil servant confirmed was correct. It was then that Bush said he had not known about the outstanding balance and made another payment of some $9,000 to the government coffers.

As he summarized the crown’s case against him, Penny told the jury that Bush had breached his duty as a premier when he abused the card and allowed the public purse to carry a growing debt burden, which was down to the then premier’s risky and addictive gambling habit. He said Bush began treating the government card like his own personal card as soon as it was given to him and his using the card for gambling was an affront to his high office.

He said Bush had shown a disregard for the public trust when he used that card in casinosto get cash for gambling and then made no effort to pay it back before government began to carry the debt. “He allowed government to carry the burden to the tune of $10,000 for two and a half years and only paid it back when he was aware of the investigation,” the lawyer said.

Penny closed his opening statement to the jury at around 11:30 on Tuesday morning.

Bush has persistently denied the allegations against him, which include 11 counts of breach of trust and misconduct in public office, all of which relate to cash withdrawals at casinos made on a government credit card during his first year in office after he was re-elected in 2009 as the country's leader. Bush has described the charges as a political witch-hunt to discredit him and the Cayman Islands by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The case continues in Grand Court One on Wednesday at 10am with the crown’s first witness, Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson.

See related story on CNS: Mac's-gambling-revealed

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