The recently concluded fraud case in which Texan billionaire Allen Stanford was convicted of running a US$7-billion Ponzi scheme using a bank in Antigua and Barbuda should serve as a warning to small societies in the Caribbean, a senior US diplomat has said.
Addressing a meeting of the heads of the Financial Intelligence Unit that ended in Barbados on Wednesday, chargé d'affaires at the US Embassy, Christopher Sandrolini, said the region could not afford to relax its vigilance and laws given its vulnerability to criminals.
"Somebody like the recently convicted Allen Stanford obviously had a devastating effect in Antigua in particular, the number of people he employed, the devastating effect on that economy when he went down. It's just one classic example of how vigilant a small society has to be because of the ripple effects that any major crime can have," Sandrolini said.
Stanford was convicted on March 6 of masterminding the Ponzi scheme by bilking tens of thousands of investors of high-yield certificates of deposit at his Antigua-based Stanford International Bank.
The eight men and four women jury found him guilty on 13 of 14 counts. Two days later, the same jury decided that Stanford must forfeit US$330 million in assets in 29 bank accounts seized by the US government.
"I think the drug trafficking threats in many of the islands are already being seen in terms of the rise in crime, the rise in the availability of weapons, the increase in youth gangs, the general climate of fear that can be created, and how easily somebody with money and influence gained through crime can begin to have a corrosive effect and an intimidating effect on the governments and people," Sandrolini added.
Barbados' Attorney General, Adriel Brathwaite, underscored the need for the region to share intelligence given that criminals were building regional networks.
"If we are addressing money laundering and terrorism financing from a Caribbean perspective, then we must ensure that we share our best practices," Brathwaite said.
British High Commissioner to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Paul Brummell, endorsed the call for countries to exchange more information. But he cautioned that this intelligence could become useless if countries do not have adequate legislation in place.
Brummell highlighted a landmark case in St Vincent and the Grenadines in which a local businessman, Antonio 'Que Pasa' Gellizeau, and Bermudan sailor Winston Robinson were found guilty on two charges of money laundering involving US$1.7 million in cash.
He attributed the successful outcome of the case to the adoption of good practice and sharing of experience.
The financial intelligence meeting discussed practical ways to enforce forfeiture, money laundering and proceed of crime legislation in a bid to curb serious crimes, including drug trafficking.
Officials are also hoping to strengthen the capacity of personnel leading the fight in investigating money laundering offences and tracking the proceeds of crime.