February 25, 2009 / 7:25 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 2-Antigua and Barbuda moves to take over Stanford land

(Recasts with economy as government motive, adds details, quotes, byline)

By Billy Canning

ST. JOHN'S, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Antigua and Barbuda's government said on Wednesday it would seek to take over land owned by Texas billionaire Allen Stanford to "protect the national economy" after the U.S. fraud charges against him.

A list accompanying the official statement detailed land parcels "required for public purpose" totaling more than 250 acres on the tiny twin-island Caribbean state.

They included plots housing Stanford banks and companies, as well as beachside homes and development properties located at Shell Beach, Crabbs Peninsula and Cedar Valley Springs, among other sites.

"The Government of Antigua and Barbuda will tomorrow convene an emergency meeting of the House of Representatives with the main purpose to move a motion to acquire over 250 acres of land owned by the Stanford Financial Group of Companies," the government statement said.

It added the motion would be brought by the country's attorney-general.

"Basically, it (the land) is being taken over," an employee in the prime minister's office said, explaining the motion.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) civil fraud case announced a week ago against Stanford, a 58-year-old financier and sports tycoon, has shaken Antigua and Barbuda, where he was the biggest private investor and employer.

Last week, Antiguan authorities appointed a receiver to take control of the Antigua-based Stanford International Bank (SIB), which the SEC says was at the heart of a "massive ongoing fraud" that allegedly duped thousands of investors.

Control of another Stanford-controlled entity, the Bank of Antigua, where depositors had rushed to withdraw funds last week, was handed over to a grouping of regional banks in an operation coordinated with the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.

Explaining its move to take over Stanford's land, the government said the appointment by a Texas court of a U.S. receiver to seize Stanford assets "threatens the financial viability of the Bank of Antigua, the prompt payment by the Stanford Group of Companies of the massive outstanding debt to local suppliers and the continued employment of over eight hundred employees at a time of global financial crisis."

In a separate statement, the UK-based accounting company appointed by Antigua and Barbuda regulators last week to act as receiver for the Stanford International Bank Ltd and Stanford Trust Company Ltd said it was trying to identify the total amount of assets held on behalf of SIB.

"At this time we are unable to ascertain the total value of assets held or report on the timescale for the return of monies to investors," Vantis Business Recovery Services said.

"Together with the international regulators and authorities and the U.S. Receiver, we are working to complete these investigations as quickly as possible to avoid further inconvenience to the Bank's customers," it added.

From the United States to the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe, customers of the Stanford Group have been desperately trying to recover their savings and deposits. Many have been told their accounts have been frozen.

The SEC says Allen Stanford has surrendered his passport, but no criminal charges have so far been made against him, although he faces some class action lawsuits by investors. (Writing by Pascal Fletcher, editing by Jim Loney, Gary Hill)

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