Wednesday, February 18, 2009

R. Allen Stanford in Antigua...hindsight is 20 20

north sound
I run the eco tour in Antigua. I started doing the tour on a little open boat back in late 1999 when the North Sound of Antigua seen above had a different look. Click here for a large view. Our tour was a eco-historical tour of the area where we spoke about the interesting ecology and history (both ancient and modern). Every day i would mention Mr. Stanford in my talks, and over the years i found it hard not to speak too much. He was changing the way i felt about Antigua and especially about the North Sound, and in the end I hard a hard time accepting the changes. Alan Stanford who had purchased the little Antiguan bank (Bank of Antigua) nearly twenty years earlier was just starting to make big money with his off shore business on the island back in 99, but hadn't made huge expansions in the area at that time. Within five years much changed with huge amounts of construction around the airport and even into the almost virgin North Sound with it's 22 little islands and rocks. By 2003 he was well on his way to having a huge health club for the elite of Antigua and his special clients, he had two airlines as well as a fleet of private jets. He owned most of the land around the airport including the main parking lot and a huge restaurant called the Sticky Wicket. That restaurant was part of the Stanford Cricket Grounds which was probably the most expensive cricket ground in the world. Here you can see happy fans at the final match of the first Stanford 20 20:
picture 328
He owned the largest newspaper on the island which essentially was his own little PR machine. He owned a large private jet hanger and landing facility which helped him bring in his new mega clients. He owned a massive private yacht, and he was on his way to building marina for his yacht. This marina, "Barnacle Point", would also serve the purpose of getting people to and from his private island which he just purchased. Maiden Island which sits directly in front of the airport was one that I had been using since i started my tour as a shelling and bird watching spot. More to come on that in a while. He had also purchased one of the largest and most beautiful houses on the exclusive Jumby Bay (then tore it down). He purchased another there for one of his executives. He had a printing company which did all sorts of stuff including printing Adventure Antigua brochures! He had a development company which constructed everything he built at the time and had a huge plant nursery. He was by far the largest employer on the island next to the Government. Plans for hotels mega yacht marinas, golf courses marine research centers and all sorts of stuff were in the pipelines. There were many other businesses that i am forgetting but for many of us it all seemed to be too much too soon. When he arrived in Antigua he flew commercial like the rest of us and in no time he had a fleet of jets and started calling himself a billionaire. Ads in Spanish promoting his off shore bank appeared in US magazines and his banking empire grew to several different areas in South America including Panama, Colombia and Venezuela. He gave massive loans to the Government to fund projects like the new hospital for example. IT was alleged that he helped individual local politicians too. Apart from helping the local guys, Mr. Stanford entertained many US congressmen (from both parties) in Antigua at hotels like Curtain Bluff and Jumby Bay and even on mega yachts which spend most winters here on island. By 2005 he stepped up his US lobby campaign by purchasing a lobby research branch of Charles Schwab called the Washington Research Group to help protect his off shore business. "In 2008 he spent US$2.8 million through the lobbying firm Ben Barnes Group, according to records accessed through the Centre for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions and lobbying." That quote was from this site. His empire was massive and world wide with little Antigua being his main base of operations. He was knighted here and became Sir Allen......!

I didn't bank with Stanford and encouraged my immediate family not to either, so the banking situation was never a worry for me directly. What was always a worry was that this day when the US government finally (for whatever reason) decided to clamp down on his operation would come. As i am sure you have seen, Stanford and a few of his partners have been charged by the SEC with a massive 8 billion dollar fraud based on the allegation that he sold high yielding CD's that provide unsubstantiated returns. Whatever that all means i am not sure, but there has since been a run on his local bank and his off shore banks here, in the US, in Panama, in Colombia, and in Venezuela. For long I worried that the massive empire he grew here in Antigua would come crumbling down, and they have never been as shaky as they are today. Thankfully many of the local Stanford businesses mentioned above have closed down over the past few years and the ripple effect of what is happening now may not be as drastic had he been in control of it all now. What would have been worse would have been if he had been half way through tearing up the North Sound as were his plans. The Antigua general election is gonna be on March 12th and the opposition had been banking on Allen Stanford's money for their campaign as well as his massive $700+ million dollar development of the North Sound at Guiana Island. The ALP website is still talking about bringing the much anticipated Stanford projects online stimulating jobs and growth. Stanford's "I believe" campaign to develop the area came to a stop after a fight with the current PM last year. Since then he's been fairly quiet on that concept. Of course he was anything but quiet with his international Cricket 20 20 competitions. In fact he got plenty of bad press in the UK. I wrote about that in this blog here. Anyway, his development of Maiden Island stopped my regular Eco Tour stops there and only some of my first guests will remember us stopping every day there. I got tired of his personal security guards telling me to get off the island, and it made the tour look bad too. As mentioned in the end we stopped going there.
In fact this image is probably the last one of an official tour stop there some time back in 2003. Maiden was taken over by the Stanford Development Company around that time and it quickly became a construction project. He manipulated many by telling them he was helping repair damaged coral reefs while in reality he was dredging up healthy mangroves and delicate flats systems covered in coral species that live in turtle grass systems. I spoke quite a bit about that and included photos in an article i wrote back then. The papers here were not that interested in talking about that side of things back then. Here is the article i wrote that was only published in the end on my blog. These mangroves seen in this pic that i took before he took over maiden island lasted about a week and then were pushed down to make way for the landing craft carrying heavy machinery.
A place that i had visited all my life enjoying the incredible and complex ecosystems that it supported was very quickly turned into a construction project, and we were asked not to get off our boats whenever we got too close. My Eco Tour just picked a different spot to stop and the tour went on as normal, but this time with a little more info about Stanford and his dealings. I can't imagine anyone back then investing money into his banks after listening to my "rant" as one tourist described it on an internet forum. I may have talked too much back then, but i am sure that some people may have ended up saving money as a result. There are hundreds of stories that will surface about his dealings here locally and internationally and i am sure there are as many positive stories as their are negative ones. We here in Antigua were fortunate that he did many good things for our country and like many i was never really sure if having him here doing all that he did was better for the country or worse. There were many positive things created by him and I'm sure that although the immideate future of all his assets are up in the air, his footprint here will be around for some time. We don't even know where he is at this time, so there will be much more to this story. At the moment there is a run still going on at his local bank and i think all the off shore accounts are frozen. I spent a few hours at the Airport branch of the Bank of Antigua today waiting to pick up a friend who was closing his account there. These images show people who had been waiting for hours and hours. My friend got there long before they opened at 8 am and didn't get his money until 1 PM. He was only able to get a fraction of his money in cash and the rest in the form of a draft. Businesses in Antigua have started telling customers that they will not accept Bank of Antigua checks. The implications are huge and i will try to keep you up to date with more. For now you can also goto Forget trying to get info from Stanford's Paper. They had nothing about it today!