By Drew Hasselback
Investors lost billions in the ponzi scheme orchestrated by Texas tycoon Allen Stanford, and now a Canadian lawyer believes he has an innovative legal strategy to recover funds for victims of the fraud who reside outside the United States.
Todd Weiler, who specializes in international law, believes that “unconscionable negligence and/or manifest incompetence” on the part of U.S. regulators may have breached the foreign investor protection provisions of several international trade treaties signed by the U.S. government.
If this had happened to Americans in Mexico, there’d be no doubt that those Americans would be bringing a NAFTA claim against Mexico
A request for arbitration and statement of claim the London, Ont. lawyer has delivered to the U.S. Department of State alleges that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was aware of problems at the Stanford Group of Companies (SGC) and at Stanford Financial Group (SFG) as early as 1997. Yet in a “shocking and egregious failure,” SEC officials failed to shut Stanford down until 2009, the claim alleges.
Mr. Weiler alleges that the U.S. refused to take steps to shut Stanford down earlier because U.S. officials believed the majority of Stanford’s victims were not U.S. nationals. The Canadian lawyer argues that international trade treaties, among them the North American Free Trade Agreement, require that the U.S. government treat investors from all signatory countries equally, regardless of their residency.
“If this had happened to Americans in Mexico, there’d be no doubt that those Americans would be bringing a NAFTA claim against Mexico, and that they would deserve to win,” Mr. Weiler said in an interview. “The Americans have for 100 years used these agreements and other policies to bring other governments to heel and make sure they get this kind of protection and legal security.”
The U.S. State Department web site shows that it has received notice of legal actions Mr. Weiler has filed on behalf of Stanford victims from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Chile and Peru, and which are brought under various trade agreements the U.S. has signed with those countries. However, the U.S. government has not yet acknowledged on the web site that it has received the NAFTA claim that Mr. Weiler has filed on behalf of Mexican and Canadian residents. All the claims contain allegations that have yet to be proven at a hearing.
A high-flying Texas businessman who built a series of financial institutions in the United States and the Caribbean, Stanford was eventually arrested and charged with fraud in 2009. He had been known as “Sir Allen Stanford” in recognition of his services to the government of Antigua and Barbuda. He was tried in U.S. federal court and sentenced to 110 years in prison upon his conviction for fraud in 2012. His knighthood was revoked in 2010.
Investors who placed funds with Stanford International Bank received “certificates of deposit” or CDs that were supposed to be low risk investments that offered generous returns. The scheme took in more than US$7-billion. Some 21,000 investors from around the world were taken in.
SEC officials, who are responsible for protecting the investments of investors, acted with unconscionable negligence
Stanford’s activities caught the attention of U.S. regulators as early as 1997, a mere two years after the Stanford Group of Companies registered with the SEC in 1995, according to a report completed in 2010 by David Kotz, who was at the time the SEC’s inspector general. The NAFTA claim filed by Mr. Weiler relies on that report, which concluded that the SEC could have sought legal action to shut down Stanford years earlier than it did.
|“SEC officials, who are responsible for protecting the investments of investors such as the claimants against criminal enterprises such as SFG, acted with unconscionable negligence and or manifest incompetence, causing millions of dollars of losses to the claimants as a result,” the claim states.Because Mr. Weiler’s claim is structured as a proposed international arbitration, the legal action is open only to non-U.S. residents from countries with which the U.S. has signed trade agreements. Mr. Weiler says the action, which he is bringing in conjunction with several other lawyers from the United States, could include “several thousand” clients.
Other third parties have been targeted for their connection to Stanford. Liquidators of Stanford International Bank have sued Toronto-Dominion bank in Quebec and other jurisdictions on the theory that, as Stanford’s banker, TD should have known the Texan businessman was up to no good. TD denies the allegation.