O’Dea denies approving Syed salary advance

| 06/02/2017
Cayman News Service

Conor O’Dea

(CNS): The former chair of the UCCI board told the court Monday that he never approved a $71,400 salary advance that Hassan Syed gave himself when he was president of the college, less than six months before he left the island. Conor O’Dea said that when he learned of the advance several months later, he made Syed sign an agreement to pay it back before the end of his contract. The former UCCI president, who is accused of stealing around CI$550,000 from the college, is alleged to have falsified documents and lied to the chief accountant to get the hefty advance by implying O’Dea had approved it.

The salary advance is one of twelve charges against Syed relating to theft and deception offences, all of which he has denied. O’Dea was the first crown witness to appear at Syed’s trial, which resumed Monday.

After Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran concluded his introduction of the crown’s case for the jury, he started his evidence with O’Dea, who told the court that he took over the chairmanship at UCCI in March 2007.  The former managing director of Butterfield Bank (Cayman) claimed to have done his own due diligence of the college before he took the job.

But by that time, according to the prosecution’s case, Syed had already begun deceiving the college with the lies about his PhD to secure the job as president, stealing from its coffers via the credit cards he had assigned to himself and claiming false travel expenses for his family.

The former bank manager said he knew nothing about Syed’s alleged misuse of the credit cards, or that the chief accountant was allowing the president to use college funds for his own bills and constant advances. O’Dea said he was not involved in the day-to-day financial dealings and had never approved the credit cards that Syed was using.

He said no one on the board was aware of the crimes until Syed had already left Cayman, but when it came to light members were all worried that they would be hung out to dry and blamed for the theft of so much money. He said there were concerns that fingers would be pointed at them for the inadequacies in the system that had allowed the alleged crimes to happen. Under cross-examination he also confirmed that the board had not instituted any policies to deal with salary advances or credit card use.

Talking about his work with Syed while he was president, O’Dea said they would meet regularly in a casual manner to discuss college business, as well as at the scheduled board meetings. But he said he only became aware of the concerns over the finances at the college and the possible crimes after Syed left and the auditor general began his investigation.

When questioned by both Moran and Syed’s lawyer, Thomas Price QC, O’Dea denied that he had approved or even knew about the salary advance that Syed allegedly took in January 2008. He told the court that he had never received or sent the emails that the crown claims were forged by Syed to manipulate the UCCI accountant to give him over $71,400.

O’Dea said the first he knew of the salary advance was when Syed asked him to approve it retrospectively in April 2008, which he said he refused to do. But when he understood that it was because Syed was ill and needed it for medical attention, he did not demand immediate payment. But he said he had asked Syed to sign an agreement that he would begin paying back the debt at $3,000 per month, and the entire amount would be paid with a final bulk payment before his contract ended in September.

He denied any earlier conversations with Syed about him needing the advance for treatment or any casual, verbal approval of that salary advance before the president approached him to ask about a retroactive approval in April. He said the agreement in writing was about recording the debt and trying to get the cash back for the college. O’Dea insisted he had never approved the advance, as he did not think he had the authority or that it was the right thing to do considering the amount.

When asked by Price if he had casually approved it and was now embarrassed about what had transpired, O’Dea insisted that the first he knew about the advance was several months after Syed had already taken it, and he had assumed that the chief accountant had signed off on the advance.

The case continues.

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Category: Courts, Crime

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Cayman News Service