- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua | Hundreds of people lined up to withdraw money from banks in Antigua and Caracas affiliated with Texas billionaire Allen Stanford a day after the tycoon was charged with an $8 billion fraud.

The whereabouts of the brash, 58-year-old financier were unknown. CNBC television said he tried to hire a private jet to fly from Houston, the site of his U.S. headquarters, to Antigua, but the jet operator refused to accept his credit card.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has accused Mr. Stanford of operating a fraud centered on the sale of certificates of deposit from his Antiguan affiliate, Stanford International Bank Ltd (SIB).

The scheme has drawn comparisons with the purported $50 billion fraud by Wall Street veteran Bernard Madoff.

In the twin-island state of Antigua and Barbuda, where Mr. Stanford is the biggest private employer, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said the charges against him could have “catastrophic” consequences but urged the public not to panic.

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.

Bank of Antigua, with three branches in Antigua and Barbuda, is part of Mr. Stanford’s sprawling global business interests but is separate from SIB, the offshore affiliate at the heart of fraud charges pressed by U.S. regulators.

The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank posted a statement at Bank of Antigua saying the bank had sufficient reserves.

“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.

A similar scene played out in Caracas, where hundreds lined up to pull their money out of a Stanford bank.

“Stanford Bank Venezuela is a healthy bank without any type of problem,” said Edgar Hernandez Behrens, who heads Venezuela’s banking regulator.

A Venezuelan official estimated that people in that country have invested about $2.5 billion in Stanford.

In a civil complaint, the SEC said 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.”

Stanford Group claims to oversee $50 billion in assets.

The SEC said Mr. Stanford failed to respond to subpoenas seeking testimony and did not produce “a single document.”

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