ST. JOHN'S, Antigua - Hundreds of people lined up to withdraw money from banks in Antigua and Caracas affiliated with Texas billionaire Allen Stanford, a day after the tycoon was charged with an $8 billion fraud.
The brash, 58-year-old financier's whereabouts remained unclear on Wednesday, a day after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused him of operating a fraud centered on the sale of certificates of deposit from his Antiguan affiliate, Stanford International Bank Ltd (SIB).
The scheme has drawn comparisons with the alleged $50 billion fraud by Wall Street veteran Bernard Madoff.
Two police officers stood watch at the Bank of Antigua as at least 600 people stood in a line stretching around a street corner, despite assurances from regional monetary authorities that the bank had sufficient reserves.
I'm worried and I'd like to get my money out, said Andrea Lamar, 28, who joined the line with a friend on a street popular with tourists in the state capital, St. John's.
Bank of Antigua, with three branches in the tiny twin-island state of Antigua and Barbuda, is part of Stanford's sprawling global business interests but is separate from SIB, the offshore affiliate at the heart of fraud charges lodged by U.S. regulators.
The six-nation Eastern Caribbean Central Bank posted a statement at Bank of Antigua saying many depositors had started to withdraw funds, causing some anxiety, but that the bank had sufficient reserves.
If individuals persist in rushing to the bank in a panic, they will precipitate the very situation that we are all trying to avoid, the statement said.
Antigua's prime minister, Baldwin Spencer, said in a televised address to the nation late Tuesday that the charges against Stanford could have catastrophic consequences for the nation, but he urged the public not to panic.
A similar scene played out in Caracas, where hundreds of Venezuelans lined up to pull their money out of Stanford's offices. Local officials tried to ease concerns.
We can say in good faith that Stanford Bank Venezuela is a healthy bank without any type of problem to announce, said Edgar Hernandez Behrens, the head of Venezuela's banking regulator, Sudeban.
A Venezuelan official estimated that people in that country have invested about $2.5 billion in Stanford.
In a civil complaint, the SEC said SIB sold $8 billion in certificates of deposit by promising high return rates that exceed those available through true certificates of deposits offered by traditional banks.
We are alleging a fraud of shocking magnitude that has spread its tentacles throughout the world, said Rose Romero, regional director of the SEC's office in Fort Worth, Texas.
In all, the Stanford Group to claims to oversee $50 billion in assets.
The SEC said Stanford failed to respond to subpoenas seeking testimony and did not produce a single document.
There were no signs of imminent criminal charges against Stanford, whose personal fortune was estimated by Forbes Magazine last year at $2.2 billion.
'NOT DOING ANYTHING'
All was quiet on Wednesday outside Stanford's U.S. headquarters in Houston, a day after a raid by federal agents. A man who answered the phone at Stanford's Boston offices but declined to give his name said, The office is open but we are not doing anything.
A Colombian affiliate of Stanford halted its activities on that country's stock exchange.
We had to take a decision to protect investors and, naturally, to guarantee stability in the market, Alvaro Camaro, the bank's local director, told Reuters.
Stanford, who holds dual U.S.-Antiguan citizenship, had sought to raise his stature by donating millions to U.S. politicians and securing the endorsement of sports stars, including golfer Vijay Singh and soccer player Michael Owen.
Public figures on Wednesday scrambled to pull back from any relationships with Stanford, whose assets have been frozen.
Former Swiss President Adolf Ogi was quoted as saying he would resign from the board of Stanford Financial Group, telling the Swiss daily Cash, I don't want to have anything to do with something that could be dodgy.
A leading figure in British cricket described the England and Wales Cricket Board's association with Stanford as a fiasco. Stanford had become famous in the cricket world for a $20 million November game between England and his own team of West Indian players.
The pictures of (ECB Chairman Giles) Clarke and Stanford posing behind that chest of money will haunt English cricket forever, said Jonathan Marland, who had been a challenger of Clarke's.
Stanford lived for more than 20 years in the reef-girded island of Antigua, only 9 miles wide and 12 miles long with a population of just 70,000.
He owns the country's largest newspaper, heads a local commercial bank, is the biggest private employer and its top investor, and is the first American to receive a knighthood from its government. He has homes sprinkled across the region, from Antigua to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to Miami.
Some in the line at Bank of Antigua expressed hope that Stanford would evade arrest and preserve his investments in Antigua. The charges come from America. They shouldn't apply here. And he's innocent until proven guilty, said Sylvan Roberts, 43.
A federal judge on Tuesday appointed a receiver to take possession and control of defendants' assets for the protection of defendants' victims.
(Reporting by Jason Szep in St. John's; additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, Ana Isabel Martinez and Saul Hudson in Caracas, Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Boston, Anna Driver in Houston, Helen Popper and Nelson Bocanegra in Bogota, Martin de Sa'Pinto and Emma Thomasson in Zurich and Mitch Phillips in London; Writing by Scott Malone; editing by John Wallace)