ST. JOHN'S, Antigua – Antigua's Senate voted Friday to seize R. Allen Stanford's property, setting up a possible showdown with a court-appointed receiver who is securing the billionaire's assets for investors in his allegedly fraudulent offshore bank scheme.
The measure passed easily, with 12 senators in favor and three abstentions, a day after the lower house of Parliament also voted to confiscate about 250 acres, including businesses that formed the basis of Stanford's empire on the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
Antiguan officials said they hope to keep the businesses in operation and prevent the receiver from using the assets to pay investors in the Antigua-based Stanford International Bank Ltd.
Sen. Colin Derrick, of the ruling United Progressive Party, said the seizure is necessary to protect the economy, already suffering from a drop in tourism because of the global slowdown.
"This government felt that it had to act swiftly and quickly to safeguard the assets and the interests of the people of Antigua and Barbuda," Derrick said.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a civil complaint against Stanford, two associates and three of his companies, alleging they misled investors who bought certificates of deposit from the bank.
A judge overseeing the civil fraud case appointed Texas lawyer Ralph Janvey as a receiver and authorized him to freeze the assets of the billionaire and his main companies as regulators pore over their finances. That includes his businesses in Antigua, where Stanford held citizenship.
Janvey did not respond to requests for comment on the Antiguan government's action, which came in an emergency session of parliament.
Sen. Arthur Nibbs of the main opposition Antigua Labor Party denied there was any urgent need to confiscate the land, insisting the receiver or other U.S. officials have no authority to shutter the businesses without the consent of Antigua's government.
The U.S. "can appoint receivers from now until doomsday," Nibbs said. "But when it comes to entering Antigua and Barbuda, they have to enter under our terms and conditions."
Nibbs said the government was only interested in taking back the land because it was sold to Stanford under the previous Labor Party administration of Prime Minister Lester Bird, an ally of the Texas billionaire and a supporter of his efforts to develop the Caribbean country.
Stanford is the largest private employer in the Caribbean nation. His businesses, which include a development company, cricket stadium, newspaper and two restaurants, have about 800 workers.
The 250 acres include the lavishly landscaped Stanford Cricket Grounds, his "Sticky Wicket" sports bar and restaurant and the white-columned international bank adjacent to the airport.
U.S. authorities allege Stanford misled investors by claiming to sell relatively safe CDs at higher-than-average rates while disguising the real nature of roughly $8 billion in deposits into real estate and other ventures. The allegations were included in an affidavit filed by an FBI agent to support Thursday's arrest of his chief investment officer, Laura Pendergest-Holt, on charges she obstructed the SEC investigation.
The FBI, U.S. Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Postal Service are conducting parallel criminal probes of Stanford and his associates, according to the affidavit, but no charges have been filed.