Cayman Islands leader freed on bail as corruption probe continues

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands Wed Dec 12, 2012 5:34pm EST

The entrance to the home of Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush after investigators searched inside for evidence of economic crimes, in Georgetown December 11, 2012. The leader of the Cayman Islands was arrested on suspicion of corruption on Tuesday in connection with a series of police investigations in the Caribbean offshore financial center, authorities said. Bush was detained at his home by members of the Financial Crime Unit of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, a police statement said. REUTERS/Shurna Robbins

The entrance to the home of Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush after investigators searched inside for evidence of economic crimes, in Georgetown December 11, 2012. The leader of the Cayman Islands was arrested on suspicion of corruption on Tuesday in connection with a series of police investigations in the Caribbean offshore financial center, authorities said. Bush was detained at his home by members of the Financial Crime Unit of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, a police statement said.

Credit: Reuters/Shurna Robbins

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GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (Reuters) - The embattled leader of the Cayman Islands was released on bail after a second day of questioning on Wednesday, following his arrest on suspicion of theft and corruption in the notoriously secretive offshore Caribbean financial center.

Premier McKeeva Bush, a veteran politician and head of one of the world's best-known tax havens, was detained on Tuesday at his home by members of the Financial Crime Unit of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

He was freed on police bail late on Tuesday, following a full day of questioning by the authorities, but was taken back into custody for further questioning on Wednesday morning, police said.

On Wednesday afternoon, police spokeswoman Janet Dougall said in a statement that the 57-year-old premier had been "placed on police bail until early February 2013, to allow further investigations to take place both here and abroad in connection with the allegations made against him."

The statement added that "a considerable amount of property, including computer equipment" had been seized during searches stemming from the investigation of Bush, which was "still very active."

Police and other officials have declined to spell out specific details of the probe targeting Bush, saying only that it included allegations of theft, misuse of a government credit card and abuse of office over the alleged importation of explosives without valid permits. The explosives were to be used by a local firm in a large construction project.

Bush himself has not spoken in public since his arrest but his chief of staff urged Caymanians to pray for him and to keep in mind that everyone is "innocent until proven guilty."

A veteran politician, Bush has been the target of ongoing corruption probes for more than a year now. Bush's arrest on Tuesday drew pointed calls for his resignation to avoid further embarrassment to the palm-fringed financial hub, which is the offshore home for most of the world's hedge funds.

"The eyes of the world are now focused on the Cayman Islands and watching what happens here," said an editorial in the online edition of the Caymanian Compass newspaper.

'BANANA REPUBLIC'

"If Mr. Bush refuses to do the honorable thing and step aside at least until the police say they aren't going to bring charges or he is exonerated, the world will view our country as something akin of a Banana Republic. This cannot be allowed to happen," the newspaper said.

Bush was elected as premier of the island chain, a British Overseas Territory with a population of 55,000, in 2009 and he also serves as finance minister.

Earlier this year, Cayman Islands Police Commissioner David Baines said Bush was the subject of three police investigations, two of them involving what Baines described at the time as financial irregularities.

Bush publicly denied any wrongdoing.

Officials from Bush's United Democratic Party are examining the impact of his arrest on the government, according to a statement from Deputy Premier Julianna O'Connor-Connolly.

"We the government understand the gravity of this matter," she said.

O'Connor-Connolly did not elaborate, but the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce said in a statement issued by its president, Chris Duggan, that the business community supported any move to crack down on corruption whether or not it involved officials "at the highest level of political office."

"The Chamber of Commerce unequivocally supports all actions by law enforcement officials to root out any unethical behavior that may damage the reputation of the Cayman islands as a leading international financial centre and as a quality jurisdiction to conduct business and invest," the statement said.

Bush is the longest-serving member of the Caymans Legislative Assembly. His arrest came a day after the assembly adjourned for the rest of the year. That appeared to rule out any immediate legislative action to try to see him removed from office through a no confidence motion.

(Writing and additional reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Eric Beech)

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