Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Stanford and Sonn

“What the ras?” my colleague, a Jamaican lawyer exclaimed. We had been reviewing a document in which Robert (R) Allen Stanford wanted to be henceforth represented or referred to by his initials throughout the document.“Why would someone want to be known as RAS?” my colleague asked. “Maybe he doesn’t know Jamaican?” I responded.

“But does that make him a bumbo? Anyhow he is a big-shot and RAS mas’, as the Calypsonian Explainer sang, is a high mas’.”Now Stanford’s RAS seems to be grass — deeper, thicker and growing faster than the outfield of the Stanford Recreation Ground. In fact, he is batting on a Sticky Wicket that is getting stickier every second as he faces charges in the United States of masterminding and perpetrating a “fraud of shocking magnitude.”

From a Hall of Fame he is in a Hall of Shame. Linda Chatman Thomsen, director of the SEC’s division of enforcement, said: “As we allege in our complaint, Stanford and the close circle of family and friends with whom he runs his businesses perpetrated a massive fraud based on false promises and fabricated historical return data to prey on investors.” His RASsets have been frozen. A liquidator, and this is not the bartender at the Sticky Wicket, is now in charge of the vast Stanford holdings.

I had first met RAS when he was plain Mr. Stanford or, as owner of an airline, plane Mr. Stanford in Jamaica on the day the Cricket World Cup was launched in Trelawney.

Mr. Stanford and his entourage were there for a meeting on his proposed 20/20 series, the domestic version, as well as the international winner-take-all match featuring “his” Superstars.On the other side of the table were the International Cricket Council (ICC) which had told Mr. Stanford that he needed to get permission from the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) to hold any of his events, either domestic or international, and the WICB represented by Mr. Ken Gordon.

The ICC team comprised Percy Sonn from South Africa who was then the President and Malcolm Speed, the CEO. Sonn, a street-fighter for the African National Congress during the Apartheid era, was not one to mince words and he told RAS bluntly where he could put his money.“Cricket is not for sale,” he declared.

Shell-shocked and dazed by the Sonn barrage, Stanford asked bemusedly afterwards, “Who is that guy?” Meanwhile, Sonn questioned, “Who does he think he is?”Interestingly, Stanford kept insisting that he was not in the cricket for the money, that he just wanted to have fun. But there was no fun in the Sonn who was a pain in the RAS.

Sonn warned RAS that if he started a rebel league he and his players would be on the outside of world cricket with no hope of looking in.Now RAS faces the prospect of being on the inside of a penitentiary looking out, not something that you would associate with a man with several private jets, many homes, yachts and listed as No. 62 in the list of the world’s richest men with a personal fortune of over US$2 billion.It is interesting that his star has plummeted just like his airline Caribbean Star.

RAS had started the airline thinking that with the onset of competition LIAT would just drop out of the sky and he would have it all his own way – something that characterised his approach to everything from cricket to conversation.

Regional governments kept LIAT going, defying logic and the odds. Stanford lost money and his Board did not like it. Even then it was evident that his business dealings were not as solid as he projected them. I had jokingly said that if you want to become a millionaire the best way is to start off as a billionaire and then buy an airline.

Caribbean Star was absorbed into LIAT and one jewel had dropped off the Stanford crown, giving it a slightly unbalanced if not tarnished appearance.In spite of this, Stanford continued at his old tricks. He had driven a hard bargain with the airline, publicising his charity but behind the scenes driving a bargain that was onerous and as one-sided as he could get it. The WICB had earlier experienced the duplicity that characterised Stanford’s dealings.There was a meeting to discuss the first regional 20/20.

Stanford was sent an aide memoire of the meeting in which he promised to rescue the Board from its financial woes. The document also included that the Board agreed in principle to the regional 20/20.

That was all Stanford needed. He took this as his licence to run the 20/20 and the Board got zero.I found out for myself the level of pettiness at which Stanford operated. Before I went to Antigua to live I donated my newspaper column to the Antigua Sun, a paper owned by Stanford (and also running at a loss).

I did it both because a colleague was the Editor of the Sun and because some Antiguans were reading my column off the web and liked it.

In 2007, I was negotiating with Stanford and his people on behalf of the WICB for an agreement that would allow him to hold the 20/20 and the Superstars game.One week two things happened that angered him.

I had written about an experience with Caribbean Star in which there was only one bottle of water and it ran out, leaving us thirsty on an island hopping flight from Trinidad to Antigua.My comment was that fortunately Stanford was a billionaire.

If he was just a millionaire there would be no water at all on the flight. I was also getting tired of the shifting ground rules or goalposts in the negotiations. We would agree on something and then his people would come back with a different position.

He brandished his money out front as an inducement and then kept reducing the amount while increasing his demands. I was openly critical of this ploy.

He personally called the Editor of the Sun and instructed him to immediately discontinue my column. I took this philosophically.As I told the Editor, that was his RAS business and he could do what the RAS he wanted.

Now the situation has changed and the SEC is calling the shots and big shots at that – Stanford, Madoff and the gang that couldn’t keep straight.

*Tony Deyal was last seen sound in the knowledge that by the time this article goes to print on Carnival Saturday in Trinidad, the SEC and the FBI had caught their RAS.

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