Government votes to take Stanford lands

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, February 27, 2009 – The Antigua and Barbuda government has approved a resolution to take ownership of 254 acres of Sir Allen Stanford’s lands here. But the opposition Antigua Labour Party (ALP) has refused to support the move, despite the political leader, Lester Bird, giving support for such action just days ago.
The motion passed in the Senate this morning, with all three of the ALP Senators absenting themselves from the vote and one not being present for the vote. A day earlier, it went through the House of Representatives unopposed after the ALP absented themselves from the vote after making their contributions to the debate.
The ALP members of parliament accused the United Progressive Party (UPP) of moving too fast in compulsorily acquiring Sir Allen’s property.
But the Baldwin Spencer administration has insisted the move is for “a public purpose”. The Prime Minister said the move had to be taken right away to ensure that this country’s lands did not fall into foreign hands as the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) continues building its case against Sir Allen who is accused of two separate fraud activities totaling US$9.2 billion.
Finance Minister Dr Errol Cort explained in parliament yesterday that the receiver appointed by the SEC had sent letters to commercial banks that did business with the Texan billionaire informing them they had to freeze any assets related to him.
It was against this background, he said, that the decision was taken to secure Antigua and Barbuda’s land.
“Because of that action taken by the receiver in respect of our own commercial bank within the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States), we discussed at the Monetary Council and agreed that the receiver has no legal jurisdiction over these funds,” he told his colleagues.
“The same receiver has sought to go after assets of Stanford International Bank (SIB) all over the world. The receiver has sent notices to all employees instructing the employees what they can and cannot say, what they should and should not do. So, in effect, the receiver in the United States has sought to impose himself in terms of the receiver-manger of this entity.”
In order to give any effect to his actions, the receiver must get assistance from local authorities.
But Attorney General Justice Simon told the parliament that he has not been contacted for that cooperation through a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT).
The ALP members in both houses have, however, dismissed the claim that the acquisition of Sir Allen’s lands must take place immediately and charged that the UPP was using the situation to score political points ahead of next month’s general elections.
“I believe this particular motion is certainly premature,” said deputy political leader Gaston Browne. “It is coming at a time when Stanford has not even been indicted. I believe this resolution should be deferred until a later time.”
“I want to recommend that this issue be dealt with by executive order, that a caution be placed on all of Stanford properties to protect the interests of all stakeholders,” he added.
Opposition leader Steadroy Benjamin expressed similar sentiments, saying that the government should act “at the appropriate time once we are satisfied that we have the legal basis and there is due process”.
But three days earlier the ALP’s political leader said he welcomed the reconvening of parliament – which had been dissolved to prepare for the March 12th poll – in order to deal with the matter.
“The ALP welcomes the recall of parliament – the highest decision making body in the land – because we want to ensure that the Stanford assets do not fall into foreign hands that the authorities of this country have not vetted and approved, and with whom there is no contractual understanding,” Bird said at the time.
“We are especially concerned about the lands around the airport which we had agreed could be developed for specific purposes that would benefit the people of Antigua and Barbuda. We have no idea what would become of these lands if they fell into the ownership of person or persons with whom the authorities of Antigua and Barbuda have no contractual arrangements and who have not been vetted and approved,” he added.
“Similarly, the Labour Party is deeply concerned about the existing Stanford Companies and their many employees who are citizens and residents of Antigua and Barbuda.  We want those companies preserved in Antiguan and Barbudan ownership and the employment of these people preserved.”
Meantime, one of Sir Allen’s senior executives named in the civil fraud case has been charged with obstructing the SEC investigation.

The Department of Justice and the FBI said in a joint statement that chief investment officer at Stanford Financial Group, Laura Pendergest-Holt, “made several misrepresentations under oath” to SEC investigators earlier this month.

Pendergest-Holt and SIB’s chief financial officer James Davis have been implicated in the US$8 billion certificates of deposit fraud of which Sir Allen is accused.

The SEC complaint also alleges an additional scheme relating to US$1.2 billion in sales by SGC advisers of a proprietary mutual fund wrap programme, called Stanford Allocation Strategy (SAS), by using materially false historical performance data.