(Cayman News Service):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 $4000 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 $1000 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 into the hungry machines” as he added to his loses.
Following the loss of more than a quarter of a million dollars since July 09 of his own money as well as that 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 $1000 in cash from a Florida Casino while playing the slots, according to the loyalty card, 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 $9000 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 casinos to 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 11-30am 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 FCO.
The case continues in Grand Court One on Wednesday at 10am with the crown’s first witness, the financial secretary Kenneth Jefferson.