How will the Allen Stanford affair impact upon the Caribbean?

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Allen Stanford company subject to fraud review

The ongoing investigation by US authorities regarding the affairs of Allen Stanford and the Stanford Group could have serious consequences for the Caribbean with Antigua possibly the worst hit by the potential downfall of this once great empire. The Stanford Group is allegedly under investigation with regard to an $8 billion investment scheme which offered “improbable, if not impossible, returns” through the company’s offshore banking operation on Antigua.

Who is Sir Robert Allen Stanford?

While Allen Stanford and the Stanford group have played a major part in the Caribbean, South America and various other parts of the world it is only since the emergence of fraud allegations that his name has been pushed to the forefront. In a sign of the times, it is only recently that his Wikipedia page has been updated to show any relevant facts on the man himself!

Born in Texas, Sir Robert Allen Stanford now holds dual citizenship between the US and Antigua and Barbuda where his business interests have had a major impact upon the area. He was knighted by the Antigua government and is alleged to have been a regular visitor to various government and cabinet meetings on the island.

Initially Stanford made his first fortune in Texan real estate prior to that bursting of that particular bubble in the 1980s. He then used the money made from real estate to expand into insurance, set up a formal real estate company and eventually moved into global wealth management. Official information shows that Stanford Financial Group operates in over 130 countries around the world and has in excess of $50 billion under management.

The alleged fraud investigation

US authorities are currently investigating a specific scheme based on the island of Antigua and an $8 billion investment programme. However, there are suggestions surfacing in the press that the US authorities have been “monitoring” the operations of Stanford Group for up to 15 years. However, it must be noted that no formal charges have yet been laid and while Allen Stanford has been questioned by the FBI and the US authorities he is yet to be charged with any criminal activity.

Consequences of the investigation

While the ongoing investigation relates to only a small fraction of the overall Stanford Group, panic has spread across the Caribbean and South America in particular where the Stanford Group has a number of banking operations. Many of these smaller economies have literally been bankrolled by Allen Stanford, with Antigua and Barbados two which bring to mind, and the potential for further damage to the reputation and stature of the group is likely to have a serious impact on economies in the region.

The last few days has seen investors queuing outside Stanford banks around the world demanding their deposits back as they fear the whole group could collapse in due course. At this moment in time there are no plans to close down any other Stanford Group operations although investigations are ongoing. The headlines in the press have assisted in creating a climate of fear and panic which has prompted a number of governments in the region to issue specific advice to clarify the situation.

The Caribbean property market

Many property markets in the Caribbean have performed very well over the last few years although some have suffered more recently due to the ongoing economic downturn. A lack of tourists has significantly hit economies such as Antigua and Barbados and the added prospect of further job cuts because of the Stanford Group situation could force many of these economies into a downward spiral. Stanford group is not just a dormant bystander in many of these Caribbean countries as the group operates a number of businesses in the region which have improved employment prospects for thousands of workers.

Even prior to the US announcement of the alleged fraud investigations there had been a number of job cuts because of certain cutbacks by Stanford Group operations and the situation could deteriorate very quickly unless the investigation is brought to a prompt conclusion in favour of Allen Stanford. It seems inevitable that rumours and concern about the economies in the Caribbean, and South America, will impact upon investor confidence and potentially impact upon the tourist industry where the “trust factor” could be affected.

There are also serious concerns that the offshore banking industry, which is prevalent in many Caribbean countries, could be under serious threat from US authorities and other international regulators. Amid unsubstantiated rumours of various businesses having very close relationships with various governments in the region we could see credit lines seriously impacted in the short to medium term as the overseas banking regulations come under ever closer scrutiny.

Obviously, a reduction in credit lines in the region will impact upon property investors and further exacerbate the problem which is already in existence because of the worldwide economic downturn. The potential collapse of some of the more tourist dependent economies in the region is not out of the question and even the Prime Minister of Antigua has suggested it is not a potential problem, it is a real problem.

The future

The future of the Caribbean property market is very much under threat in the short to medium term not only because of the ongoing Stanford Group investigation but the potential impact this could have on banking operations in the region. The Caribbean has been something of an offshore banking haven for some time although this particular benefit could be removed in the short to medium term if the various ongoing investigations find further issues which need addressing.

Conclusion

The dependence of economies such as Antigua and Barbados on business people such as Allen Stanford further highlights the lack of backbone existing in many of these islands economies. If one person can have such a potential impact, as highlighted by the Prime Minister of Antigua, this could change the whole outlook for the region in the longer term. What would happen if other prominent business people in the area decide to withdraw their services and their support? What would happen if tourist investment is reduced and tourist numbers fall?

While it has to be clarified that no formal criminal charges have yet been laid against Allen Stanford or his Stanford Group, much damage has already been done to the small economies of Antigua and Barbados and the potential impact on the property markets in the region could be enormous.

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