GEORGE TOWN Cayman Islands (Reuters) - The former premier of the Cayman Islands, McKeeva Bush, was found not guilty on charges of corruption by a local jury on Thursday, a court official confirmed.
Bush was charged last year with 11 counts of official misconduct and breach of public trust in a case that led to his removal from office and stirred up anti-government sentiment in the British Caribbean territory.
Bush, 59, was accused of using his government credit card to withdraw $50,000 cash in casinos in the United States and the Bahamas. He denied the accusations, saying the cash was obtained legally under rules that existed at the time.
Calling himself the “most investigated person in the Western Hemisphere,” Bush thanked his supporters after the verdict, complaining about the way the case had been handled and the “damage done to the people of this country”.
In a statement, he said “these charges were nothing more than the result of a conspiracy to remove me from power”.
Since the beginning of the case, Bush has said he was the victim of a “political witch hunt” by the island’s former British-appointed governor, Duncan Taylor, who is currently Britain’s ambassador to Mexico.
Bush did not testify at his trial and his lawyer called no defense witnesses, saying there was no case to answer.
Bush was the victim of a “cynical” plot to remove him from office that was led by Taylor, who was pursuing a “personal vendetta,” Bush’s lawyer, Geoffrey Cox, said in closing arguments on Tuesday, according to the Cayman Compass newspaper.
The defense cited emails read out in court to suggest that British diplomats pressured the Cayman Islands police to bring charges.
Taylor was quoted in emails as saying he would drink “a quiet bottle of bubbly” if the former premier was charged, the Cayman Compass reported.
The email revelations, which emerged just a few days after last month’s referendum on Scottish independence, aroused local outrage over London’s handling of the case.
Some Cayman islanders have called for a debate on independence or devolution of powers for the British colony.
In his statement, Bush sounded a conciliatory note saying “we need to reestablish the partnership between the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom,” adding he was willing to participate in that process.
Michael Misick, another ex-premier from the Turks and Caicos Islands, also a British Overseas Territory, is set to go on trial for corruption early next year.
Editing by David Adams, Diane Craft, Cynthia Osterman and Peter Galloway