Texas billionaire Allen Stanford, accused of defrauding investors around the globe, stayed out of sight on Friday as governments and clients counted the cost of his alleged $8 billion securities scam.
As customers from Houston to Caracas desperately sought to recoup their investments, Stanford's whereabouts were a mystery again even after FBI agents served the 58-year-old financier with a formal fraud complaint on Thursday.
Stanford, previously a publicity-seeking sports tycoon with a knighthood bestowed by the tiny Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, has been lying low since the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged him, two colleagues and three of his companies with massive, ongoing fraud.
The scandal, emerging hard on the heels of allegations that Wall Street veteran Bernard Madoff carried out a $50 billion fraud, has spooked international investors and prompted investigations in Latin America and Europe as well as in the United States.
In Fredericksburg, Virginia, television crews maintained a vigil outside the family home of a woman, Andrea Stoelker, reputed to be a girlfriend of Stanford.
Stanford was served with the SEC complaint papers at Fredericksburg, about 50 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. The FBI did not say how it learned that Stanford was in Virginia but said he had not been hiding and was not a fugitive.
British news reports had identified Stoelker, a former Fredericksburg resident, as Stanford's girlfriend and president of the board of directors of a cricket tournament that Stanford sponsors in Antigua.
The SEC charges accuse Stanford of fraudulently selling $8 billion in certificates of deposit with impossibly high interest rates from his Antiguan affiliate, Stanford International Bank Ltd (SIB).
Antigua's financial services regulator said on Friday it had appointed a receiver to take control of SIB and the Stanford Trust Co on the island.
Kevin Callahan, an SEC spokesman, said he could not immediately clarify the status of Stanford's passport, which a court has ordered him to surrender.
The fallout from the SEC charges against Stanford has rippled across the globe, from his plush offices in the United States to the Caribbean, where he has luxury homes and developments, to Latin America, where clients swarmed to some of his banks this week to try to withdraw their money.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Stanford had plans to build a global management complex, authorities suspended his company from a tax-incentive program, a senior government official said on Friday.
We are cooperating with the SEC, Percival Clouden, executive director of the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority, told Reuters by telephone from St. Thomas.
The scandal has also hit the world of international sports, where Sir Allen -- who once flew in by helicopter to Britain's Lord's cricket ground with $20 million in cash of sponsorship money -- was a generous patron.
The England and Wales Cricket Board said on Friday it had terminated its contracts with Stanford's financial group.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that U.S. federal prosecutors were investigating whether Stanford was operating a Ponzi scheme. In such a scheme, money from new investors is used to pay earlier investors.
In Venezuela, where banking regulators estimate citizens may have had more than $2 billion invested in Stanford offshore companies, investors were counting the cost of the scandal
Droves of middle-class and well-heeled Venezuelans invested with the Texan financier because they said they feared their money was not safe at home under socialist President Hugo Chavez.
We love that Stanford man like we love Chavez, one well-dressed young investor said bitterly, smoking at a Stanford office, where hundreds have lined up in recent days trying to get their money.
Venezuela's government seized Stanford's local commercial bank, a small operation holding local currency accounts, on Thursday after a run by customers using Internet facilities. The government promised to auction off the bank.
The SEC filed charges in Dallas, Texas, on Tuesday against Stanford, two colleagues and Stanford International Bank Ltd, Stanford Group Co and Stanford Capital Management LLC.
A court-appointed receiver has moved to add Stanford Financial Group and Stanford Financial Group Bldg Inc to the complaint.
PREVIOUS DRUGS PROBE
Across the Andean region and in Mexico and Panama, regulators have launched investigations into local Stanford affiliates, in some cases suspending their operations.
Federal agents raided Stanford Group Co offices in Miami, Houston and other U.S. cities earlier in the week.
Britain's Serious Fraud Office is monitoring a possible U.K. link after media reports that Stanford's books were audited in Britain.
In an interview on Thursday, Stanford's father, James, told Reuters that in the late 1990s, a Mexican customer of Stanford put $3 million into a Stanford bank for investment purposes. He said federal agents then approached Allen Stanford and said the money was from a Mexican drug cartel and had been laundered several times. James Stanford said his son had cooperated with the federal probe.
Antigua has faced U.S. scrutiny in the past for alleged money laundering activities and operations by suspected Russian shell banks.
Stanford's personal fortune was estimated at $2.2 billion last year by Forbes Magazine. He has donated millions of dollars to U.S. politicians.
(Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel and Ana Isabel Martinez in Caracas, Miles Evans in London, writing by Pascal Fletcher in Miami; editing by John Wallace)