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Cayman Islands ex-premier on trial over credit card splurges, sloppy accounting

Jay MacDonald

Serving as the elected leader of the Cayman Islands is no day at the beach.

Just ask William McKeeva Bush (no relation to the American political family), the first and now former premier of the Caymans, whose term in office ran from his election in May 2009 until his arrest and subsequent ouster from office in December 2012.

Bush is currently being tried on 11 counts related to charging nearly $50,000 at hotels and casinos in Florida, Las Vegas and the Bahamas to his government credit card during his first year in office. He also faces three counts of importing explosives without a valid permit; no word on whether he charged them.

Bush, a high school dropout who became the longest-serving member of the Legislative Assembly, denies the charges.

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According to coverage of the scandal from The Cayman Compass, the Cayman Anti-Corruption Commission grilled a passel of government officials to determine if a) there was a process by which government employees would reimburse the state for private purchases made on their government card, and b) whether Mr. Bush followed it.

The consensus was a) sorta, and b) not so much.

Ministry accountant Wendy Manzanares testified that a system was in place to send Bush memos with his government credit card statement, asking him to flag his personal expenses. Unfortunately, Bush was “moving a mile a minute” and would “hop in and out” of his office between overseas trips at such a pace that he often delegated bill paying to his subordinates, sometimes even signing blank checks for his staff to complete.

This catch-as-catch-can reconciliation workaround broke down in early 2010 when Bush started to round off his refunds. By April, his staff had ceased to send him statements and reminders altogether.

Prosecutors claim it was during this period that Bush made cash withdrawals totaling $34,000 on his government card at casinos in Florida, Las Vegas and the Bahamas. He also allegedly used his Cayman card for crockery, books and security guards for his overseas trips. Manzanares says it was not until November 2012, when he learned he was being investigated, that Bush attempted to repay his sizable personal draw.

Bush wasn’t the only elected official charged with generating questionable account activity on the Queen’s chit. (The Caymans are a semiautonomous overseas territory of the United Kingdom.) Cabinet Minister Arden McLean is similarly charged with using his Cayman card to purchase a $3,500 diamond-studded ladies watch from Kirk Jewelers in Miami on Christmas Eve 2007, along with $2,000 in clothing purchases at six Dade County retail outlets.

The Cardgate investigations prompted the Cayman Islands to ban personal use of government credit cards in July 2010.

Premier Alden McLaughlin, the leader of the opposition People’s Progressive Movement who had urged Bush to step down, now leads the island nation, presumably with two credit cards in his wallet.

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