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UCCI accountant kept in dark

| 09/02/2017

(CNS): The chief accountant at the University College of the Cayman Islands told a court Wednesday that he had “no idea” what the former president, Hassan Syed, was using his college credit cards for because he never saw the required documentation or the statements relating to the spending. Khemkaran Singh revealed how Syed was constantly ordering him to pay his personal bills because he was busy or overseas and how he ran up thousands of dollars in personal debt that the accountant would take from his salary when he could identify the spending. The accountant painted a picture of Syed constantly mixing college business with his own and manipulating Singh into keeping the cash flowing.

Answering questions from the prosecution about Syed’s expenditure when he was the college boss, Singh said that, despite repeated efforts on his part, the president never gave him the information he needed to reconcile the credit card spending. But he said he was directed by his boss to constantly pay money onto the cards because they were “maxed out”, especially when he was travelling.

Singh told the court that he had considered refusing to clear the credit cards because of Syed’s failure to account for any spending at all, legitimate or not, but he said he was worried that he would cause Syed or the college embarrassment if he pulled the plug, especially if the president was overseas.

Singh said he was the chief accountant dealing with the general ledger, the budget, expenditure and the overall finances but he answered to the president, as set out in his contract of employment with UCCI.

Speaking about the systems surrounding the management of the college accounts, he said that when he had first started at the college, Sam Basdeo was the president and there was just one credit card, which was kept in the accounting office. On the occasions the president needed it to buy college equipment, books and other goods or was travelling on college business he would come to Singh’s office and get the card.

After the trip or business was concluded Basdeo would return the card with a travel or expenditure report form and all the relevant invoices, bills or receipts to justify and explain the expenditure. But even though he explained the system to Syed when he became president, Singh told the court he never followed this established protocol. He said Syed took the credit card from Singh’s office and did not return it. He said the president told him he was travelling too much, and when he wasn’t he would still need the card for college business.

Singh said he never received the documents he needed from Syed in all the time he was president and never saw the real statements or any of the expenditure until the auditors became involved just a few months before Syed left the island, but this was not through a lack of trying. Singh said on every occasion he saw or spoke with Syed, he would repeatedly ask for the documents. Syed would agree “with all sincerity”, the accountant said, telling him “not to worry, I will get them to you”, but never did.

The accountant told the court that he had pressed the matter over and over, explaining to Syed that if he could not reconcile the accounts, it would undermine the reputation of the college, his reputation as an accountant and it would look bad on the president as well, but no matter what he said or how often, Syed never gave him the information. When he had to complete the year-end accounts in October 2007 for the 2006-07 year, he documented the cash he had paid onto the cards in various headings in the accounts and told the auditors what he had done and why.

He revealed how the auditors then asked him to get the statements for the credit cards directly from the bank, which Singh did. But when they came in a sealed envelope, he did not open it but gave the package straight to Syed so he could attach the relevant information. Syed returned the same envelope to Singh a little later and he was told to send them to the auditors. But the Office of the Auditor General came back to the UCCI, stating that the statements were incomplete, and so they were re-ordered from the bank and then sent directly to the audit office.

When the auditors compiled a spreadsheet of the credit card spending, Singh saw for the first time the extent of the expenditure and the numerous suppliers that he knew the college was not doing business with. He passed the spreadsheet to Syed because the auditors had left gaps for the supporting information, but Syed told Singh to fill in what he could and he returned the document, which was still incomplete, to the auditors in early 2008.

Eventually, the audit office was to trigger the criminal enquiry and Syed left the island, citing  ill-health.

But the accountant also revealed how the president would get him to pay bills and personal expenses, which he deducted from his salary. Singh described how it started small with just a CUC bill he was asked to pay when Syed was away, but it soon escalated.

While the accountant kept an account of Syed’s debt and continued to deduct amounts from his salary, he described finding other payments or unauthorized bank transfers made by Syed that had happened while Singh was away and without his knowledge. He also tried to keep track of these and enter them into Syed’s debt.

Singh revealed how Syed constantly mixed his private financial affairs with those of the college and related a confusing state of affairs. Syed would ask for salary advances on one hand and cheques to pay suppliers on the other, and the accountant said he would struggle to get the receipts and invoices  from the president for what was supposed to be college business. He described chasing invoices directly from suppliers where he could, and if it did not seem like college business and he was getting no response from Syed, then it would go against the mounting personal debt.

The case continues.

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Category: Courts, Crime

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