- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

CARACAS, VENEZUELA (AP) - Venezuela’s finance ministry suspended the sale of a local bank controlled by Texas financier R. Allen Stanford on Friday, saying the only bidder’s offer was too low.

Italcambio Casa de Cambio, a local brokerage, offered the equivalent of $55.8 million for Stanford Bank SA _ 31 percent of the $180 million sought by a board of government officials overseeing the open auction, said Rodolfo Porro, a legal consultant at Venezuela’s Finance Ministry.

Porro, who announced the suspension Friday, did not take questions from reporters. Finance Ministry spokespeople also declined to answer calls seeking information on when a new auction would be held or if the asking price would be reduced.

The government will keep proceeds from any sale to cover the cost of backing the banks’ deposits and coordinating the auction. Finance Ministry and banking regulators have declined to say how much that could be.

Venezuela’s government closed and seized temporary control of the bank last month after panicked clients withdrew 37 percent of deposits on news that the U.S. had filed fraud charges against Stanford and three of his companies.

Clients removed an estimated $93 million before the government took over the bank on Feb. 19. It said the move was necessary to back deposits.

President Hugo Chavez’s government is now managing the shuttered bank, which was not named in the U.S. fraud complaint. Stanford remains its main shareholder.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in February accused Stanford of orchestrating an $8 billion fraud scheme through his Antigua-based Stanford International Bank.

Caracas-based Stanford Bank represented just 0.2 percent of Venezuelan bank deposits.

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