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    Posts Tagged ‘Stanford Financial Group’

    The Stanford Saga – Chapter 16: Settlin’ Words? Or Something Else?

    Monday, February 15th, 2010

    A brief update on Stanford (earlier posts are available here):

    Evidentiary hearings scheduled for late January in the ongoing struggle for control over the financial assets of Stanford International Bank, Ltd. (SIB), the cornerstone of Allen Stanford’s financial-empire-turned-Ponzi-scheme, were cancelled by presiding US District Court Judge David Godbey.

    As readers of this blog are aware, Antiguan liquidators Peter Wastell and Nigel Hamilton-Smith’s efforts to obtain recognition in the US for their Antiguan wind-up of SIB, and US receiver Ralph Janvey’s competing efforts to do the same in Canadian and UK courts, were to culminate in a hearing set for late last month.  But shortly after a scheduled status conference on pre-hearing matters, the evidentiary was cancelled.

    Recent reporting by Reuters (available here) may provide a reason for the change: Reuters reported on February 5 that the liquidators and Mr. Janvey may, in fact, be settling. According to staff writer Anna Driver, a dispute over $370 million in assets traced to Stanford, as well as $200 million located in Switzerland and the UK, are driving the parties toward a deal.

    But there may be other pressures as well. The Associated Press reported (here) that last Thursday, Judge Godbey indicated his intent to rule on a request by third-party investors to commence their own involuntary bankruptcy filing, thereby replacing Mr. Janvey as a receiver.

    Stay tuned.

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    The Stanford Saga – Chapter 11: Is Something Rotten in the State of Antigua?

    Monday, November 16th, 2009

    As readers of this blog are aware, Antiguan liquidators Peter Wastell and Nigel Hamilton-Smith and federal receiver Ralph Janvey have been busy in several forums battling for control of the financial assets previously controlled by Allen Stanford, including Stanford International Bank, Ltd. (SIB).  Prior posts are accessible here.

    Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith have filed numerous pleadings from other courts in support of their pending request, before US District Court Judge David Godbey, for recognition of their liquidation of SIB as a “main case” under Chapter 15 of the US Bankruptcy Code.

    Mr. Janvey has recently filed his own copies of several recent rulings.  These include a ruling in which the Quebec Superior Court’s Mr. Justice Claude Auclair found that Vantis Business Recovery Services – a division of British accounting, tax, and advisory firm Vantis plc, and the firm through which Messr’s. Wastell and Nigel Hamilton-Smith were appointed liquidators for SIB – should be removed from receivership of SIB’s Canadian operations.

    More recently, Mr. Janvey has filed a copy of a recently unsealed plea agreement between Stanford affiliate James Davis and federal prosecutors.

    Mr. Janvey’s papers provide a glimpse into Davis’ relationship with Stanford, and into the origins of SIB.  Summarized briefly:

    SIB’s Background

    – Davis’ and Stanford’s relationship dates back to the late 1980s, when Stanford retained Davis to act as the controller for then-Montserrat-based Guardian International Bank, Ltd.  Davis’ plea agreement recites that Stanford had Davis falsify the bank’s revenues and portfolio balances for banking regulators.  Continued regulatory scrutiny in Montserrat eventually led to Stanford’s closure of Guardian and removal of its banking operations to Antigua – where, in 1990, it resumed operations under the name of Stanford International Bank, Ltd.

    – SIB and a “web of other affiliated financial services companies” operated under the corporate umbrella of Stanford Financial Group.  SIB’s primary function was to market supposedly safe and liquid “certificates of deposit” (CDs).  By 2008, SIB had sold nearly $7 billion of them to investors worldwide.

    – Davis’ plea agreement further recites that investors were assured SIB’s operations were subject to scrutiny by the Antiguan Financial Services Regulatory Commission (FSRC), and to independent, outside audits.

    SIB’s Asset Allocation and Operations

    – In fact, SIB investor funds were neither safe nor secure.  According to Davis’ plea agreement, investor funds did not go into the marketed CDs.  Instead, they were placed into three general “tiers”: (i) cash and cash equivalents (“Tier I”); (ii) investments managed by outside advisors (“Tier II”); and (iii) “other” investments (“Tier III”).  By 2008, the majority of SIB’s investor funds – approximately 80% – were held in “highly illiquid real and personal property” in “Tier III,” including $2 billion in “undisclosed, unsecured personal loans” to Allen Stanford.  A further 10% was held in “Tier II.”  The remaining 10% balance was presumably held in “Tier I.”

    – Likewise, SIB’s operations were not subject to any meaningful scrutiny.  Davis’ plea agreement recites that in or about 2002, Stanford introduced him to Leroy King, a former Bank of America executive and Antiguan ambassador to the US, and soon-to-be Chief Executive Officer of the FSRC.  Stanford, King, and another FSRC employee responsible for regulatory oversight performed a “blood oath” brotherhood ceremony sometime in 2003 – ostensibly to cement their commitment to one another and King’s commitment to the protection of SIB – i.e., to “ensure that Antiguan bank regulators would not ‘kill [SIB’s] business'” in Antigua.

    – Though blood may be thicker than water, it is not thicker than cash: Stanford’s and King’s “brotherhood” was cemented further by bribes paid to King for his protection of SIB.  Acccording to Davis’ plea agreement, these bribes ultimately exceeded $200,000.  In return for this largesse, King reassigned two overly inqusitive Antiguan examiners of which Stanford complained sometime in 2003.  In 2005 and again in 2006, King further cooperated with Stanford in providing misleading responses to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)’s inquiries to the FSRC, in which the SEC divulged to the FSRC that it had evidence of SIB’s involvement in a “possible Ponzi scheme.”  King and Stanford similarly collaborated in responding to a 2006 inquiry by the Director of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank’s Bank Supervision Department regarding SIB’s affiliate relationship with the Bank of Antigua.

    SIB’s Financial Reporting

    – A central premise of Stanford’s approach to soliciting investments – and, perhaps understandably, a central point of interest for would-be investors – was that SIB must show a profit each year.  To accomplish this, Davis and Stanford reportedly initially determined false revenue numbers for SIB.  Ultimately, this collaboration gave rise to a fabricated annual “budget” for SIB, which would show financial growth.  Using these “budgeted” growth numbers, Stanford accounting employees working in St. Croix would generate artificial revenues (and resulting artificial ROIs), which were then transmitted to Stanford’s Chief Accounting Officer in Houston and ultimately to Davis in Mississippi for final adjustment and approval before making their way back to the Caribbean for reporting to SIB investors.

    – According to Davis’ plea agreement, “[t]his continued routine false reporting . . . created an ever-widening hole between reported assets and actual liabilities, causing the creation of a massive Ponzi scheme . . . .  By the end of 2008, [SIB reported] that it held over $7 billion in assets, when in truth . . . [SIB] actually held less than $2 billion in assets.”

    – In about mid-2008, Stanford, Davis, and others attempted to plug this “hole” created by converting a $65 million real estate transaction in Antigua into a $3.2 billion asset of SIB through a “series of related party property flips through business entities controlled by Stanford.”

    SEC Subpoenas and SIB’s Insolvency

    – By early 2009, the SEC had issued subpoenas related to SIB’s investment portfolio.  At a February meeting held in advance of SEC testimony, Stanford management determined that SIB’s “Tier II” assets were then valued at approximately $350 million – down from $850 million in mid-2008.  Management further determined that  and SIB’s “Tier III” assets consisted of (i) real estate acquired for less than $90 million earlier in the year, but now valued at more than $3 billion; (ii) $1.6 billion in “loans” to Stanford; and (iii) other private equity investments.  Davis’ plea agreement recites that at that same meeting, and despite the apparent disparity between actual and reported asset values, Stanford insisted that SIB had “‘at least $850 million more in assets than liabilities.'”  In a separate meeting later that day, however, Stanford reportedly acknowledged that SIB’s “assets and financial health had been misrepresented to investors, and were overstated in [SIB’s] financials.”

    Janvey doesn’t describe exactly how these acknowledged facts integrate into his prior opposition to the Antiguan liquidators’ request for recognition.  His prior pleadings have questioned indirectly the integrity of the Antiguan wind-up proceedings; consequently, Mr. King’s role in protecting SIB under the auspices of the Antiguan FSRC may well be the point.  Likewise, Janvey may point to the US-based control and direction of financial reporting manipulations that ultimately created a $5 billion “hole” in SIB’s asset structure as evidence of the American origin of SIB’s allegedly fraudulent operations.  Or the filing may be intended to blunt the effect of a previously filed detention order – issued by another US District Court and affirmed by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals – confining Stanford to the US and observing that his ties to Texas were “tenuous at best.”

    It remains for Judge Godbey to determine whether – and in what way and to what degree – Davis’ plea agreement impacts on the liquidators’ request for a determination that SIB’s “center of main interests” remains in Antigua.

    For the moment, the parties await his decision.

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    The Stanford Saga – Chapter 8: Home Is Where The Corporate Jet Is . . . But Where Is COMI?

    Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

    Several weeks have passed since Antiguan liquidators Peter Wastell and Nigel Hamilton-Smith and federal receiver Ralph Janvey briefed US District Judge David Godbey on the liquidators’ request for US recognition of their proposed Antiguan liquidation of Stanford International Bank, Ltd. (SIB).

    Readers will recall that Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith have been at odds with Mr. Janvey, a federal receiver appointed in Dallas’ U.S. District Court for the purpose of administering not only SIB, but all of the assets previously controlled by Sir Allen Stanford (links to prior posts can be found here).  Those assets and their creditors span at least three continents – North America, South America, and Europe – and have spawned insolvency proceedings in several countries.

    One of the preliminary questions in these proceedings is which of them will receive deference from the others.  Of particular interest is which proceeding – and which court-appointed representative – will control the administration of SIB.  The Eastern Caribbean Surpeme Court (Antigua and Barbuda) has found, perhaps predictably, that SIB’s liquidation is to be adminsitered in Antigua.  It also has found that Mr. Janvey has no standing to appear as a “foreign representative” or otherwise on behalf of SIB or other Stanford entities.

    In London, the English High Court of Justice, Chancery Division’s Mr. Justice Lewison reached a similar conclusion in early July.  Based on a determination under English law that SIB’s “Center of Main Interests” (COMI) is in Antigua, he designated Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith as “foreign representatives” of SIB for purposes of Stanford’s English insolvency proceedings.

    In Dallas, meanwhile, Judge Godbey has permitted the Antiguan liquidators to commence a Chapter 15 proceeding under the US Bankruptcy Code and to make application for similar recognition of SIB’s Antiguan liquidation in the US.  Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith and Mr. Janvey have each briefed the question of whether, under US cross-border insolvency law, that liquidation ought to be recognized here as a “foreign main proceeding” – and, more specifically, whether Antigua or the US is the properly designated COMI for SIB.

    In briefs submitted over six weeks ago, the liquidators urged a finding consistent with that of the English and Antiguan courts.  They argued essentially that a debtor’s “principal place of business” is essentially the location of its “business operations,” and referred repeatedly to SIB’s undeniably extensive physical and administrative operations in Antigua.

    In opposition, Mr. Janvey argued strenuously for a finding that SIB’s COMI is, in fact, the US.  He did so relying largely on the contention that, despite SIB’s physical location and operations in Antigua, Sir Allen allegedly “spent little time in Antigua” – and that Sir Allen effectively managed and controlled SIB from the US.  Mr. Little, the examiner appointed by Judge Godbey to assist him in overseeing the receivership, generally concurred with Mr. Janvey.

    Last week, Mr. Janvey’s contention may have received a set-back.

    The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a detention order confining Sir Allen to the US pursuant to a separate federal indictment issued against him – and in so doing, concurred in the lower court’s conclusion that Sir Allen’s ties to the State of Texas were “tenuous at best.”  The Fifth Circuit’s 3-judge panel recognized that Stanford “is both an American citizen and a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, and has resided in that island nation for some fifteen years,” and further noted:

    Stanford admitted that he established a new residence in Houston in preparation for his required presence during the pendency of the case against him.  Several of his children have recently moved to Houston to be closer to him during the proceedings.  While Stanford did grow up in Texas, he has spent the past fifiteen years abroad.  His international travels have been so extensive that, in recent years, he has spent little or no time in the United States . . . .  [O]ne of Stanford’s former pilots [testified] that Stanford . . . engaged in almost non-stop travel on the fleet of six private jets and one helicopter belonging to [Stanford Financial Group] and its affiliates . . . .

    On September 1, Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith sought leave to file the Fifth Circuit’s order in support of their prior application for recognition, and over Mr. Janvey’s anticipated objection.

    It appears that where Sir Allen’s indictment is concerned, home is where the corporate jet is.

    But where SIB’s liquidation is concerned . . . where is COMI?

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    All Right . . . Who’s In Charge Here?!!

    Monday, April 27th, 2009

    When a foreign representative meets a federal receiver, who’s ultimately in charge?  And in charge of what?

    The US Bankruptcy Code’s cross-border provisions were enacted by Congress to foster “cooperation between (A) courts of the United States, United States trustees, trustees, examiners, debtors and debtors in possession; and (B) the courts and other competent authorities of foreign countries involved in cross-border insolvency cases.”  The same provisions were also intended to promote “greater legal certainty for [international] trade and investment.”

    To this end, Chapter 15 of the Bankruptcy Code sets forth relatively simple, straightforward requirements necessary for foreign representatives to obtain recognition of a “foreign proceeding,” and provides further that once such recognition is granted, US courts “shall grant comity or cooperation to the foreign representative.”  But the same chapter also provides that the recognizing US court may “modify or terminate” the relief otherwise available by statute to a foreign representative where the interests of creditors and the debtor “are sufficiently protected.”

    These policy objectives – along with the Code’s cross-border provisions – are about to undergo a Texas-sized test next month, where a federal receiver appointed in Dallas to marshal the assets of Sir Allan Stanford’s Stanford Financial Group and other, related companies is wrangling with liquidators appointed for Antiguan affiliate Stanford International Bank, Ltd. – the entity that issued “certificates of deposit” purchased by investors in an alleged $8 billion, world-wide Ponzi scheme.

    The case is likely to offer important insight into how federal courts will reconcile their equitable perogatives in other, non-bankruptcy insolvency proceedings (such as federal receiverships) with the Bankruptcy Code’s cross-border insolvency provisions.

    In late February, the Securities and Exchange Commission sought a Temporary Restraining Order and immediate appointment of a receiver for the US-based assets of Stanford Financial Group (SFG) and related companies to stop an alleged “massive, ongoing fraud orchestrated . . . through . . . Antiguan-based Stanford International Bank, Ltd. and its affiliated Houston-based financial advisors . . . .”

    Upon US District Court Judge David Godbey’s grant of a TRO, Dallas attorney Ralph Janvey was appointed Receiver.  Very shortly thereafter, Antiguan regulators placed Stanford International Bank, Ltd. (SIB) into liquidation and appointed Nigel Hamilton-Smith and Peter Wastell as liquidators.

    All the parties acknowledge that there were at least initial efforts to reach cooperative arrangements regarding the administration of the concurrent liquidation proceedings.  Unfortunately, these efforts apparently went nowhwere.

    In mid-March, Janvey’s counsel requested an amendment of the District Court’s receivership order so as to provide Janvey with the exclusive power to commence any federal bankruptcy proceeding (including the prohibition of any petition for recogntion by any other party without prior Court order) and to act as “foreign representative” in non-US courts on the companies’ behalf.  The proposed Order further left such arrangements in place for approximately 6 months.

    Judge Godbey granted the motion, which was unopposed – but struck provisions of the Order that would designate Janvey as a “foreign representative” in non-US proceedings.

    Last Monday, Hamilton-Smith and Wastell sought recognition under Chapter 15 before Judge Godbey and requested (i) a further amendment of Janvey’s already-amended receivership order so as to remove the prohibition against their commencement of a Chapter 15 case; and (ii) referral of the Chapter 15 case to the US Bankruptcy Court.

    In papers supporting their requests, the English liquidators essentially argue that the receivership order is unenforceable insofar as it purports to restrict the commencement of a Chapter 15 case – and that the District Court simply may not enjoin such a filing.  Hamilton-Smith and Wastell claim further that Janvey has attempted – improperly and, apparently, without success – to interpose himself into the Antiguan liquidation and to have himself appointed as liquidator in that proceeding as well as in the US receivership.   Predictably, Hamilton-Smith and Wastell also devote significant attention to establishing Antigua as the “center of main interests” for SIB’s Antiguan liquidation.

    Mr. Janvey has yet to respond.  But he provided some indication of what that response will be in a 58-page Interim Report filed last Thursday.  In it, Janvey claims that SIB is an asset of the Receivership estate, since it was owned by Sir Allan Stanford on the date the receivership was instituted.  According to Mr. Janvey, his efforts to intervene in the Antiguan liquidation were rebuffed by the Antiguan court on the grounds that the receivership had no effect in Antigua, and that Janvey was therefore not an interested party to the liquidation.  Janvey further accuses Hamilton-Smith and Wastell of obtaining a Canadian registrar’s order recognizing them as the “foreign representatives” for SIB within the contemplation of Canadian insolvency law . . . all with no prior notice to him.

    Not surprisingly, Janvey believes the US – and not Antigua – constitutes the “center of main interests” for these cases, and that his receivership, rather than the Antiguan liquidation, ought to be deemed the “main” or primary insolvency proceeding.

    Can a federal court, acting within a federal receivership, interpose its own additional barriers upon the Bankruptcy Code’s relatively minimal requirements for obtaining recognition of a foreign insolvency?  Can foreign representatives, once they have obtained recogntion for a foreign proceeding, demand and expect “comity” from any US court in aid of their own insolvency objectives, regardless of that court’s ongoing efforts to administer an insolvent estate?  Or can that court modifiy the relief otherwise available to suit its own pre-existing administrative scheme for the same estate?  Can a federal court utilize its equitable powers to institute a receivership that will administer world-wide assets, claims, and recovery actions?  Or can the Court instead use similarly broad discretion to fashion and direct the mutual cooperation that, to date, has eluded Messr’s. Janvey, Hamilton-Smith, and Wastell?

    This is a matter well worth watching.

    Judge Godbey has scheduled briefing on the Antiguan liquidators’ requests into early May.  Copies of the SEC’s papers in support of the TRO, the District Court’s amended receivership order, the liquidators’ notice of Chapter 15 case, motion to amend the receivership order, and papers in support of the motion to refer matters to the Bankruptcy Court . . . and the receiver’s interim report . . . are all available here.

    Happy reading.

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