DG denies Mac conspiracy

| 24/09/2014

(CNS): When he took the stand Tuesday as a crown witness, the deputy governor denied being part of a conspiracy orchestrated by former governor Duncan Taylor, FCO staff in the UK and the police commissioner to manage the then premier McKeeva Bush’s arrest and exit from office. Franz Manderson said his involvement in the Bush case was limited to supplying a list of people who had government-issued cards to the police commissioner and ensuring the production order for the statements and other documents was followed. He said he knew nothing about emails that were read to the jury by Bush’s defense attorney from Taylor illustrating the extent of his involvement in the case and the aim to topple Bush from the premiership and ensure he would not be re-elected.

The emails from former governor Duncan Taylor to an FCO official in November 2012, which concerned the Bush case and the allegations against him for misusing a government credit card, were read out by Geoffrey Cox QC to a packed courtroom.

The defense lawyer consistently pressed Manderson about the extent of his involvement in what the lawyer described as an eager and determined effort to oust Bush, direct his arrest and subsequent charges, as well as influence the local political landscape.

When the damning email correspondence was revealed from the then governor to the court, Manderson denied knowing anything about the correspondence or the extent to which it appeared the UK’srepresentative and the FCO had had a direct hand, not just pursuing the criminal case against Bush but ensuring his public arrest and then having him charged before the May 2013 election.

In the correspondence in which Taylor discussed the case with an FCO bureaucrat, the former governor pointed to what the overseas territories minister should do, what he as governor would say about the arrest, the need for the media and the public to be informed, the impression that the arrest would have and the subsequent police activity at Bush’s home and office. The governor spoke about the need to orchestrate media articles in the UK about the impact on Cayman and the financial sector and much more, demonstrating a direct interest on Taylor’s part in the downfall of Bush.

Playing into the claims that the former premier himself had made, that the charges against him were part of a political conspiracy to remove him from office, Taylor talked about the need for the FCO to move cautiously in order not to play into the hands of Bush's claims that the charges were nothing more than a witch-hunt.

When asked by Cox, Manderson acknowledged that such interference by the FCO or the governor was not right, but he denied being involved in any plan or plot to bring the premier down. Manderson said it was the governor’s job to ensure good governance in the Cayman Islands, as he denied having any part in any suggested plan to find something “to hang on” Bush.

During the cross examination of Manderson, Cox highlighted comments from Taylor to the FCO, illustrating what the lawyer said was the the governor’s eagerness to see Bush arrested but also the situation with Bush and his political colleagues, whom the governor said were already concerned about their leader. Expecting that the arrest would have a significant impact on the then premier’s party colleagues, Taylor said in his email  that he doubted that Bush would resign but hoped that his political colleagues would develop the “backbone” after the arrest to remove him from office and elect a new party leader.

The emails, which were given to the defense as part of the disclosure in the case, left little doubt that Taylor was keen to see Bush arrested, removed from office and charged before the election to ensure he would not be re-elected as leader. The correspondence suggested a degree of manipulation by the FCO in how the publicity of the case over the alleged abuse of the credit cards in casinos would be handled. Taylor had also spoken about public opinion turning against the premier once he was arrested and the details of the alleged offences widely known.

As Cox read the emails to Manderson, the deputy governor insisted that he was unaware of the correspondence and persistently stated that he had not had any part in any alleged plot to bring down Bush, as was suggested by the attorney.

During the morning’s evidence in chief, Manderson had already spoken about the use of credit cards by government officials. He had noted that he had never used his own card for personal use. The head of the civil service said it was the people’s money and it was wrong. When he began to elaborate on the issue, Manderson was interrupted by Bush’s defence attorney and prevented from commenting any further on the use of government cards for non-government purposes.

Asked about an internal audit conducted in government about the general misuse of credit cards which was published just as Manderson became the chief officer in the portfolio of internal affairs, the deputy governor said he was unaware of that report and its results.

Manderson said he did not know about more than $5,500 worth of charges on a government credit card attributed to the former chief secretary, and Manderson’s boss at the time, where there were no receipts to account for the cash. He did, however, say he had been briefed when he became deputy governor that between 2009 and 2012 the speaker of the House had used her card for personal transactions.

The case, in which Bush is accused of 11 counts of abusing his government credit by withdrawing cash in casinos to gamble between July 2009 and April 2010, was adjourned at around 4pm Tuesday until 10am Wednesday. The court is then expected to hear evidence via video link from a Vegas casino before returning to the cross examination of the deputy governor.

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