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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Antigua Prepared To Fight Action From Stanford Investors

Finance Minister Harold Lovell

It was one week but there were two different tones from members of the Baldwin Spencer administration concerning a move by legislators in the United States to block Antigua & Barbuda from accessing a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and to a pending lawsuit from investors burned by R Allen Stanford. Where the minister of finance was defiant, the attorney general seemed contrite .

A group of senators are alleging that the twin-island state shares some culpability in the US $8 million Ponzi scheme Stanford allegedly ran, bilking investors out of their money. They say the US should oppose any new international loans to the country until the government compensates victims. This attempt to exert pressure comes after investors have said they will sue the country.

Speaking on Voice of the People on Thursday, Minister of Finance Harold Lovell declared that the country would fight tooth and nail against the victims’ coalition, which claims that the country owes them up to $24 billion in damages.

“Antigua is a small country so they (are) going pick on us, and (Senior Republican on the Banking Committee Richard Shelby of Alabama) apparently, he has some of his country club constituents who have invested money, so he is now trying to bully-rag us into paying these persons what they say they have lost. But let me tell you, we will fight that tooth and nail; there’s no way we are going to accept that we are liable in any way,” Lovell said.

In what could be classified as the strongest local response on the matter to date, Lovell added, “The persons invested their money in the Untied States. Procedures should have been in place in the United States also to prevent that, and let us look at Madoff … how come the Madoff victims aren’t calling on the US government to compensate them for whatever losses they have incurred?”

The reference was to Bernard Madoff, who is serving a 150-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to running a $65 billion Ponzi scheme.

Stanford’s trial date has been set for January 2011, and as prosecutors prepare for the case, fingers keep pointing back to Antigua, which was the headquarters for Stanford International Bank (SIB).

Among the allegations are that the government benefitted from his largess when he occupied the throne as the single largest investor and that the head of the Financial Services and Regulatory Commission (FSRC), Leroy King, was in collusion with Stanford to bilk investors.

King, who has been charged by the US Securities and Exchange Commission on multiple counts of conspiracy, remains under house arrest here, as the extradition process meanders through adjournments.

But Lovell, addressing the victims’ claim of culpability, is adamant that any arrangement between government and Stanford were legitimate commercial transactions.

“Even if Allen Stanford is guilty, how does that make Antigua & Barbuda guilty? Is it by association or what? And we say, categorically, that in no way did we have knowledge of whatever he is alleged to have done or were we involved in any way.

“We had a commercial relationship with Mr Stanford. If we got money from Mr Stanford, it was on commercial terms. He had a bank and during the course of the last 15 or so years, monies were borrowed … This administration didn’t borrow any money from Mr Stanford, but the previous administration did borrow (and) they say government is continuous, so, these are liabilities on the books of the Government of Antigua & Barbuda, but we have to pay it back at interest rates that are commercial interest rates,” Lovell said.

But Attorney General Justin Simon, in an interview with FOX Business, was less strident. In fact, he expressed disappointment with allegations of the country’s uncooperativeness and the US and Antigua & Barbuda are close to signing an evidence-sharing agreement that should facilitate the former’s preparations for trial.

“I also note with a certain amount of disappointment the allegations that have been made that Antigua & Barbuda are not cooperating with the authorities, and I’m not sure where they got that information from.

“We have certainly been co-operating. I of myself, have gone off to Miami. I have had meetings with the US prosecutors in terms of exchange of information, and, any day now, I’m expecting an MLAT (Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty) application from the US in respect of the matter, so we have been working very closely,” the AG said.

He referenced co-operation in King’s extradition process to illustrate that Antigua & Barbuda is on board with the US.

The AG also told FOX Business reporter Adam Shapiro that Antigua & Barbuda is cognizant of the victims’ loss.

“They ought to know that we, here in Antigua, are certainly very conscious that a number of investors … have suffered,” he said. “It is our intention to assist as much as possible but we have to do it within the framework of the law.”

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