ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (Reuters) - Hundreds of people lined up at Texas billionaire Allen Stanford's Antiguan bank on Wednesday seeking to withdraw funds, a day after the tycoon was charged with an $8 billion fraud.
Two police officers stood watch at the Bank of Antigua at midmorning 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.
A woman in the queue who declined to give her name said, "I wasn't panicked until I saw this crowd. Now I'm concerned."
The six-nation Eastern Caribbean Central Bank posted a statement at Bank of Antigua saying many depositors had started to withdraw funds, "causing some anxiety," but that the bank had sufficient reserves.
"However, if individuals persist in rushing to the bank in a panic, they will precipitate the very situation that we are all trying to avoid," the statement said.
Bank of Antigua, with three branches in the tiny twin-island state of Antigua and Barbuda, is part of Stanford's sprawling global business interests but is separate from an offshore affiliate at the heart of fraud charges lodged by U.S. regulators.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused Stanford, a brash, 58-year-old financier and sports entrepreneur, of operating an $8 billion fraud centered on the sale of certificates of deposit offered by Stanford International Bank Ltd (SIB), his Antiguan affiliate.
Stanford's whereabouts were unknown.
Antigua's prime minister, Baldwin Spencer, said in a televised address to the nation late Tuesday that the charges against Stanford could have "catastrophic" consequences for the nation, but he urged the public not to panic.
Holding dual U.S.-Antiguan citizenship, Stanford lived for more than 20 years in the reef-girded island, only 9 miles wide and 12 miles long with a population of just 70,000.
He owns the country's largest newspaper, heads a local commercial bank, is the biggest private employer and its top investor, and is the first American to receive a knighthood from its government. He has homes sprinkled across the region, from Antigua to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to Miami.
Some in the line at Bank of Antigua expressed hope that Stanford would evade arrest and preserve his investments in Antigua. "The charges come from America. They shouldn't apply here. And he's innocent until proven guilty," said Sylvan Roberts, 43.
On Tuesday, about 15 federal agents, some wearing U.S. marshals jackets, entered the headquarters of Stanford's company, the Stanford Group, in Houston, Texas.
Stanford's assets have been frozen and a federal judge has appointed a receiver "to take possession and control of defendants' assets for the protection of defendants' victims."
MIAMI (Reuters) - Allen Stanford, the high-flying Texas billionaire with a Caribbean knighthood and a penchant for publicity and cricket, has been brought down to earth with a thud by U.S. fraud charges against him and his companies.
In a self-congratulatory posting on the Stanford Group's website, its founder and chairman credits his grandfather with giving him "the inspiration to dream" and "an unwavering desire to build a business that is second to none." He speaks of "a passion for service and the values that hold us together".
On Tuesday, as U.S. marshals swooped down on Stanford's U.S. headquarters in Houston, federal authorities charged the flamboyant 58-year-old mustachioed financier and three of his companies with a "massive ongoing fraud."
Accusing him of far less altruistic aspirations than those trumpeted on his website, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleged Stanford and two fellow executives fraudulently sold $8 billion in high-yield certificates of deposit.
The SEC said they and the bank reported "improbable" high returns and gave "false" assurances to investors.
The SEC's revelation that Stanford's business empire -- stretching from the Caribbean island of Antigua to Houston, Miami and Caracas -- was exposed to losses from the alleged Ponzi scheme run by financier Bernard Madoff completes the picture of a finance king who somehow lost his Midas touch along the way.
Before the SEC civil charges were announced, Stanford dismissed the U.S. federal probe as "routine" and triggered by complaints from disgruntled former employees. He said his company was fully compliant with all U.S. regulations and that he would "fight with every breath to continue to uphold our good name."
Only months ago, Stanford, known as "Sir Allen" in Antigua whose authorities knighted him in 2006, was providing fodder for the British tabloids by flying in by helicopter to bankroll international cricket matches in a blaze of publicity.
Now he is out of sight, as his harassed staff in plush company offices from Memphis to Atlanta fend off queries from panicked investors and posses of probing journalists.
Once described as "haughty, arrogant and obnoxious" by Antiguan Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, Stanford, America's 205th richest man according to Forbes magazine, has often walked a fine line between critics and admirers in a business and sporting empire that reaches well beyond Texas to Europe and across the Caribbean.
Spencer said at the weekend he feared the Stanford scandal would hurt the image of the tiny Caribbean state of Antigua and Barbuda, which has undergone scrutiny in the past for alleged money laundering by Ukrainian and Russian Mafia bankers.
But many local islanders expressed support for the country's biggest investor. "He is the best investor to come into the Caribbean, not only Antigua, but the region," said islander Julian Exeter. "He puts food in the mouth of everyone in Antigua and money in their pocket," he said.
Friends say the financier is as genial as he is thick-skinned.
"Allen enjoys life and is the kind of person that doesn't worry about what other people think," said David LeBoeuf, a Texan who went to school with Stanford. "Larger than life is one way to describe him, but he's also an extremely talented, unique and hard-working individual," he said.
Stanford is the chairman of the privately held, wholly owned Stanford Financial Group of Companies. He began his business career in Houston, Texas, making his first fortune in real estate in the early 1980s. Since then he has expanded the insurance and real estate company his grandfather founded in 1932 into a global wealth management firm taking advantage of tax havens to evade IRS federal fiscal laws. Stanford Financial Group’s clients are affluent investors, institutions, and emerging growth companies from 136 countries on six continents. Assets under management or advisement are apparently in excess of US$50 billion.
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