Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Panicked Antiguans Besiege Stanford Bank

Panicked Antiguans besiege Stanford bank

By Stacy-Marie Ishmael in New York and agencies
February 18 2009 15:48

The reverberations from Texas billionaire Sir Allen Stanford’s alleged $8bn fraud continued to spread on Wednesday, as Antiguan authorities attempted to calm panicked locals who had been queuing up to withdraw money from a Stanford-owned retail bank.

Depositors attempted to withdraw their money from the Bank of Antigua the day after Mr Stanford was charged by US securities regulators over a “massive” investment fraud through Stanford International Bank, the cricket bankroller’s Antigua-based offshore bank.

Two police officers stood watch at the Bank of Antigua as at least 600 people stood in a line stretching around a street corner, despite assurances from regional monetary authorities that the bank had sufficient reserves.

”I’m worried and I’d like to get my money out,” said Andrea Lamar, 28, who joined the line with a friend on a street popular with tourists in the state capital, St. John’s.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission alleged on Tuesday that SIB sold about $8bn in “certificates of deposits’’, promising “improbable and unsubstantiated high interest rates”.

The charges have stemmed from an SEC investigation which opened in October 2006 and re-opened in December last year. Investigators on Wednesday said they had no reason to believe that Sir Allen was a fugitive although his current location is not known.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also conducting a separate probe into the Stanford Group.

Bank of Antigua is part of Sir Allen’s financial empire on the island, but it is not mentioned in the SEC’s complaint.

The bank has several branches on the island, and is headquartered just across from the Stanford Cricket Ground on Pavilion Drive, near the VC Bird International Airport.

The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank attempted to soothe nerves, and encouraged Antiguans not to ”rush to the bank in a panic.” The ECCB said it had sufficient reserves and assured depositors their money was safe.

Mr Stanford’s operations in Venezuela and Panama have been similarly besieged, with hundreds of depositors attempting to withdraw their investments from local offices of SIB, Reuters reported.

Venezuela’s regulator said on Wednesday that locals have around $2.5bn invested with SIB, while Panama’s banking regulator seized control of the local arm.

Meanwhile, a Swiss newspaper reported that former Swiss President Adolf Ogi will be immediately stepping down from the advisory board of the Stanford Financial Group. ”I don’t want to have anything to do with something that could be dodgy,” Mr Ogi told the Cash newspaper on Wednesday.

In Colombia, the local branch of the Stanford Group halted its activities on the stock exchange, according to agency reports.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

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