Jury clears ex-premier of criminal charges
KINGSTON (AP) – A Cayman Islands jury on Thursday unanimously found a former premier not guilty of nearly a dozen criminal charges about two years after he was ousted from power on suspicion of corruption.
Prosecutors alleged McKeeva Bush had illegally tapped his government credit card to withdraw nearly $50 000 in casinos in the Bahamas and the United States, using some of the cash to gamble on slot machines. Bush’s lawyers did not dispute that he used the cards for personal reasons, but argued that no laws were ever broken and all cash advances were paid back.
When instructing the jurors, Justice Michael Mettyear said that some of them might be surprised that a premier travelling abroad on business would “spend hours and hours on slot machines,” but their personal feelings toward gambling could not justify a conviction. He told them to deliver a ruling based solely on the evidence.
The seven-member jury deliberated about five hours, and cleared Bush of six counts of misconduct and five counts of breach of trust in the tiny British Caribbean territory that is one of the world’s biggest financial centers.
In a statement after the verdict was delivered, Bush said the charges “were nothing more than the result of a conspiracy to remove me from power.” He has repeatedly asserted that he did not break any laws and that he was the victim of a smear campaign by political opponents.
Bush and a few dozen supporters hugged and cheered outside the courtroom after the judge had departed.
Bush, the British Caribbean territory’s longest serving politician, lost a no-confidence vote in December 2012 and was ousted as the islands’ No. 1 politician after police arrested him at his home on suspicion of corruption.
The charges rocked the Cayman Islands, where Bush had been the premier since his United Democratic Party won 2009 general elections. He wielded great power within the territory because he was in charge of finance, tourism and development as well as being head of government.
A few months after his arrest, Bush’s fractured party was defeated in parliamentary elections. He retained his seat as a lawmaker in his powerbase in a populous district of Grand Cayman. He also remained head of his political faction.