Yet another finance scandal: Stanford Bank took $8 bn

February 20th, 2009 - 11:31 am ICT by IANS  

Mexico City/New York, Feb 20 (DPA) Latin American countries have moved to stem losses from another US finance scandal, this time centred on Texas billionaire Robert Allen Stanford and his Antigua-based bank. Stanford is best-known in India as the big cricket moghul of the West Indies.
Long lines of anxious investors formed outside branches in Mexico, Antigua, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru Thursday waiting for information and to retrieve their money.

US regulators have charged that Stanford ran a “massive, ongoing fraud” that has bled $8 billion from investors in the US, mostly through the south, and abroad.

One US investor told CNN that she had put her money into Stanford’s so-called certificates of deposit (CDs) “because we were nervous about the markets and thought it would be safe”.

The scandal follows close on the heels of revelations about the $50 billion Ponzi scheme of US financier Bernard Madoff, who paid huge returns on people’s investments by “borrowing” money from new investors. He is under house arrest while facing criminal charges.

On Thursday, the Venezuelan government intervened with the local branches of the Stanford Bank, “to stem fears of investors”, officials said. Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez said there were already “groups interested in buying the bank” and gave reassurances that the Venezuelan economy was sound.

In Panama, branches of the bank were closed after news Wednesday of the civil charges brought against Stanford by the US Securities Exchange Commission which regulates the finance industry.

Long lines formed outside branches in Antigua, Mexico and other countries of Latin America. They waited in vain to retrieve their money.

In Mexico City, investigations were launched into the extent of the damage, which could affect many. Around 200 people gathered at one Stanford Bank building, hoping for information. Some investors charged that their money had been funnelled through Canada to Antigua.

The US federal police, the FBI, was reported by ABC news to be investigating possible links between the flamboyant banker and money laundering for Mexican drug lords.

In Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, banks which worked with Stanford were ordered to restrict their links or totally cut their ties.

A Colombian commissioner resigned her office and was under observation by national financial oversight officials. In Ecuador, financial officials suspended all firms which belonged to Stanford Trust and ordered an investigation.

The head of Stanford Casa de Valores in Ecuador, Carla Roggiero, emphasised that her company was not engaged in raising capital. The firm had revenues of $80 million in 2008, press reports said.

Stanford was not represented in either Argentina or Brazil.

The US SEC charged earlier this week that Stanford, 58, whose whereabouts are not known, ran a a massive, ongoing fraud “through his group of companies and lured investors with improbable if not impossible” claims about investment returns.

Stanford Group, Stanford International and Stanford Capital Management LLC were named in the SEC complaint.

The bank, based in tax-haven Antigua, attracted clients with assurances that its CDs were as safe as US government-insured accounts, if not safer, investors said.

Most US certificates of deposit are insured for as much as $250,000 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. CDs issued by Stanford International, a foreign company, are not FDIC-protected.

The bank’s assets in the US have been temporarily frozen by a US federal judge, and regulators have appointed a receiver to account for investor money.

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