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Bank Manager Bailed After Appeal Over Account Thefts

By NICO SCAVELLA

Tribune Staff Reporter

nscavella@tribunemedia.net

A FORMER manager at the Bank of the Bahamas sentenced to three and a half years in prison for stealing $21,000 from the savings accounts of several of the bank's customers has been granted bail pending the appeal of his sentence.

Acting Appellate Justice Milton Evans granted Renrick Bowe bail in the amount of $15,000 with two sureties, and required him to report to the Cable Beach Police Station no later than 6pm every Monday and Friday.

Justice Evans, in a written ruling, stated he was not satisfied there was any evidence that would lead him to find Bowe as a flight risk if granted bail.

The appellate judge also said that if, in his appeal, Bowe is able to satisfy the appellate court that an audit report by an unidentified Canadian consultant concerning his unlawful actions is either inadmissible or unreliable, he stands a "very good chance at succeeding on his appeal".

Thus, Justice Evans said it was in those circumstances he came to the conclusion that Bowe has a "good chance of success" in challenging his conviction and sentence, which he said is an "exceptional circumstance which ought to be considered in the exercise of my discretion to grant bail".

According to the Court of Appeal ruling, Bowe was hired in June 2013 as a manager in the Information Technology (IT) department of BOB. As manager, his primary responsibility included the support of all IT applications and providing security to the bank's IT systems.

As application support manager, Bowe focused a lot of his work hours on the Euro-Net. That system, which is also called the "Card Platform", stores data and controls all of the activities associated with ATM, Visa, pre-paid and gift cards, which are issued from BOB.

Additionally, as manager of application support and security, Bowe's access to the Euro-Net card platform was that of a "super administrator", and as such, he had full access to the card platform. The ruling said he need that unfettered access in the event that fixes to applications need to be made, he could execute those tasks without "undue or unnecessary delay".

Between January and February 2015, unauthorised ATM withdrawals were made from four clients' savings account held at BOB. The affected accounts were held at different BOB branches.

The bank's manager of loss presentation and information consequently initiated an investigation for fraud, which ultimately revealed that two ATM test cards requested and received by Bowe from the bank's card centre were used to make the unauthorised withdrawals.

Through the card platform, Bowe was able to access the Flexcube, where data for customers' savings accounts are stored, and linked the four customers' savings accounts to the test cards.

The linking of the savings account to the ATM test cards gave the card holder total access to those savings accounts. Once that linkage took place, Bowe was able to perform all activities on the savings accounts that the legitimate accounts holders could perform, the ruling said.

The ATMs at two BOB branches, namely Harold Road and Shirley Street, were what Bowe used to make unauthorised withdrawals from customers' savings accounts. A total of $21,000 was withdrawn from the affected clients' accounts, which were held at various BOB branches.

Bowe was subsequently arrested and charged in connection with the unauthorised ATM withdrawals. He admitted to requesting and receiving the test cards linked to the withdrawals, but denied conducting the unauthorised activities associated with the cards and stealing funds from the four customers' savings accounts.

Nonetheless, he was tried, found guilty and consequently convicted in the Magistrate's Court of 13 counts of stealing by reason of employment; five counts of attempted stealing by reason of employment; and five counts of unauthorised use of a computer.

Bowe was consequently sentenced to three and a half years on each count of stealing by reason of employment; two years on each count of attempted stealing by reason of employment, and two years on each count of unauthorised use of a computer.

Bowe lodged an appeal before the appellate court against his conviction and sentence which contained several grounds.

According to the ruling, Bowe based his appeal on the inadmissibility an audit report prepared by a "yet unnamed individual" said to be a Canadian consultant to BOB who was not called to give evidence in the matter.

Bowe further charged there was no evidence adduced concerning that consultant's qualification or relationship to the bank or any of the parties involved in the matter, or to his unavailability for trial, or even "that his computer used by him in his investigation was working properly".

As Bowe put it, the only evidence linking him to the crimes in question were "BOB computer log-in information and printouts which were the results of the findings of the aforementioned Canadian consultant".

"The prosecution's entire case is based on a computer report," Bowe charged.

On February 2, 2017, Bowe applied to the Court of Appeal for bail ahead of his appeal.

In his ruling, Justice Evans wrote that a person charged before the court is entitled to be afforded the opportunity to face his accusers.

"In this case the report formed the basis on which this matter moved before the court. As such one would have expected that the person who prepared the report should at least have been provided so that (1) his/her qualifications could be ascertained; (2) he/she could explain the methodology utilised to come to the conclusions reached and (3) to be available to be cross-examined on that evidence," the judge noted.

Justice Evans also said an additional cause for concern was that Renee Ijeoma, who held the position of senior manager with overall responsibility for BOB's IT department in 2015, was, according to her own evidence, the only other bank employee whose profile and password permitted her full access as a super administrator to the card platform.

Thus, Justice Evans said it was important that an independent analyst conduct the investigation and prepare the report. However, Justice Evans said the magistrate, based on his reasons for convicting and sentencing Bowe, "did not appear to address his mind to either the absence of the Canadian analyst nor to the fact that Mrs Ijeoma may not have been an independent witness".

Additionally, Justice Evans noted that Bowe was not the only person with expert knowledge and "controlled access" to the systems -- the other being Mrs Ijeoma. He also noted that the information pertaining to the two ATM test cards Bowe used to commit the crimes were "obtained from this report which is at issue".

"In the absence of the report which the applicant says should not have been admitted without his ability to cross-examine the Canadian consultant it is doubtful that the learned magistrate would have arrived at the conclusion which he did," Justice Evans said. "It follows that if the applicant is able to satisfy the court on appeal that the report was either inadmissible or unreliable he stands a very good chance of succeeding on his appeal.

"It was in these circumstances that I came to the conclusion that the applicant has a good chance of success on his appeal which is an exceptional circumstance which ought to be considered in the exercise of my discretion to grant bail.

"I was not satisfied that there was any evidence which lead me to the new that the applicant would be a flight risk if granted bail. It was for the above reasons that I made the order granted bail to the applicant on the terms indicated above."

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