Syed battles for legal funding

| 22/12/2014

(CNS): The former president of the University College of the Cayman Islands, who stands accused of stealing over a quarter of a million dollars from the institution, is caught a legal catch-22 regarding his forthcoming trial. Hassan Syed (47) has been refused legal aid because of his assets but because those assets have been frozen under the Proceeds of Crime Act he cannot access them to fund his legal representation. James Stenning, a local attorney currently acting as amicus curiae (friend of the court) for Syed said he had been granted legal aid for a hearing to try and have his assets released but there are no guarantees and Syed’s right to a fair trial is in jeopardy.

Stenning said that his firm would be prepared to act for Syed if the assets were released or he was granted legal aid. However, with some seventy witnesses in the case and thirteen charges of fraud and theft, Syed would not only need to be represented he would also likely need a Queen’s Counsel because of the complexities of the case. The lawyer also told the court that if Stenning and Associates was to formally go on record to represent Syed at trial, it is very unlikely that the defence would be ready for the case, which is scheduled to open in March.

Crown counsel Toyin Salako objected to any movement of the trial and also insisted that Syed, who has not yet answered the charges against him, be arraigned. She said the defendant has had the details of the counts since his extradition from Switzerland in May and must know whether he is guilty or not. She said that the trial date was set some seven months ago in June, adding that the delays could not “go on forever” and the crown was ready to proceed.

However, arguing on Syed’s behalf, Stenning said that he could not yet formally enter any pleas to the counts on the indictment as he had been advised. He urged the court to give the former head of UCCI more time and at least wait until after the hearing regarding Syed’s assets in the New Year.

Stenning pointed out that Syed was in a very difficult predicament over what are very serious allegations. He warned that at present, the defendant had no way to fund a lawyer and without legal aid or access to his own money he could not get a fair trial because he has no means to fund what will likely be an expensive case.

“If he is to have a fair trial, there must be reasonable time to assess the case,” Stenning said. “It is not as straight forward as it may appear to the prosecution.”

Despite the crown’s objections, Justice Charles Quin adjourned the case until 9 January but said that at his next appearance Syed must answer the charges.

Syed is accused of going on a lavish spending spree on the university credit card, using it for weekends away and luxury items, such as Tiffany jewellery. The alleged abuse of the card did not come to light until 2008, after Syed had resigned during a leave of absence. He was eventually tracked down and arrested in Switzerland and extradited back to Cayman. Syed agreed not to fight the extradition provided he was given bail and the opportunity to receive hospital treatment, as he is understood to be suffering from cancer.

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