US authorities today charged Texas billionaire Allen Stanford and three of his companies with 'massive ongoing fraud' as federal agents swooped in on Stanford's US headquarters.
In a complaint filed in federal court in Dallas, the US Securities and Exchange Commission accused the cricket-loving Stanford and two other top executives at Stanford Financial Group of fraudulently selling $8 billion in high-yield certificates of deposit.
About 15 federal agents, some wearing jackets identifying them as US marshals, entered the lobby of Stanford's office in the Houston Galleria area, reports said.
Stanford Financial said it remained open for business, but was 'under the management of a receiver,' according to a sign taped to the door of the firm's Houston office.
According to the 25-page SEC complaint, Stanford Investment Bank (SIB) sold $8 billion in certificates of deposit 'by promising high return rates that exceed those available through true certificates of deposits offered by traditional banks.'
The SEC said it was seeking to freeze assets of the company and appoint a receiver 'to take possession and control of defendants' assets for the protection of defendants' victims.'
The move came as investors, politicians and regulators focus on the returns promised and provided by investment firms, following an alleged $50 billion fraud by Wall Street investment manager Bernard Madoff.
Stanford's investment companies were exposed to losses from the alleged Ponzi scheme run by Madoff, and falsely reassured investors otherwise, the SEC charged.
The SEC outlined the Madoff link in its charges against Stanford that also said the firm had sought to remove nearly $200m from its accounts in recent weeks.
Stanford also falsely told at least one customer earlier this month that he could not withdraw a multimillion dollar certificate of deposit because the SEC had frozen the account.
'Recently, as the market absorbed the news of Bernard Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme, SIB has attempted to calm its own investors by claiming the bank has no 'direct or indirect' exposure to Madoff's scheme,' the SEC said. 'These assurances are false,' it added.
'Perhaps most alarming is that SIB has exposure to losses from the Madoff fraud scheme, despite the bank's public assurances to the contrary,' it said.
The England and West Indies cricket boards suspended sponsorship negotiations with Stanford following the fraud charges.
Stanford came to prominence in the cricket world following his private Twenty20 competition in the Caribbean and, in particular, the $20m game in November between England and his own team made up of West Indian players.