The Many Victims of Allen Stanford

Jon GemmellCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2009

So now it’s vulgar to appear on the "hallowed" turf at Lord’s in a gold-plated helicopter in order to show off a treasure chest of $20 million? Cricket’s establishment cannot retreat fast enough from their warm embrace of Texan Allen Stanford last summer.

Former Wisden editor Tim de-Lisle has now described the scene at Lord’s as “undignified” and accused administrators and the ex-players who were party to it as blinded by the amount of money on offer. One of those ex-players, Ian Botham, wrote in The Daily Mirror that the sorry Stanford debacle leaves English cricket with “nothing but egg on its face.” He conveniently left out his own role in the charade.

Current England star Kevin Pietersen, never one afraid to speak his mind, once compared the Stanford deal to winning the lottery. Now he says that he felt that the England team had been sold. Maybe the reason he took so long to express his doubts was that he had signed a two-year deal to be one of Stanford’s "ambassadors."

I wrote back in June that Stanford’s millions came at a cost that further cedes power to business interests and threatens the format of cricket and hence its long-term stability. I predicted that alongside a few winners, there will be many more losers.

OK, so I might have over-estimated those who benefited, but the reasoning behind the assertion was based on Stanford’s questionable motives for getting involved in cricket.

Stanford now stands accused by the US Securities and Exchange Commission of a “massive ongoing fraud” of “shocking magnitude” worth an alleged $8 billion.

As more information about Stanford's background becomes known, the English Cricket Board (ECB) is left looking at best inept and incompetent, and at worst downright greedy.

By 2008, Stanford’s personal fortune was $2.1 billion, which allowed Forbes to rank him the 605th richest man in the world. He invested his own and his organisation’s funds in promoting the Stanford brand and protecting his interests.

It was not only in sports that Stanford’s organisations sought to buy influence. Large amounts were invested in American politicians. House of Representatives member Bob Ney, who served 17 months in prison for conspiracy to defraud, was amongst those who received funding. Ney was a member of the Financial Services Committee, a body regulating offshore banking.

President Barack Obama was the third largest individual recipient of donations from the Stanford Financial Group. He received $31,750 during his presidential campaign. His opponent John McCain also received more than $28,000, whilst Hilary Clinton, now the secretary of state, received $6,900. The single largest individual recipient was Bill Nelson, the Florida senator who was vice-chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2002, when Congress was considering tougher anti-fraud legislation.

It is easy to see why Stanford might want friends in Washington. The US Treasury Department had warned about the lax regulation of Antigua’s offshore banks and their links to money laundering. Stanford flew members of the House Caribbean Caucus to the West Indies for meetings and holidays.

It was not just in the US that the billionaire sought to buy influence. Stanford lent an estimated $65 million to former Antiguan Prime Minister Lester Bird’s government. He also underwrote the construction of a new hospital and new executive offices for the government and, of course, the Stanford cricket ground.

Stanford’s authority was further entrenched through the ownership of the Antigua Sun newspaper and the National bank.

Was Stanford the philanthropist that the ECB had painted, or simply empowering his business interests? He had already been kicked out of the Caribbean island of Montserrat by the British Government in 1990, after setting up his bank there five years earlier.

Baldwin Spencer, leader of Antigua’s United Progressive Party, who replaced Bird as Prime Minister in 2004, condemned Stanford as a modern-day colonialist.

Why would the ECB want to do business with such an individual? Giles Clarke, the organisation’s chairman, once told Wisden’s John Stern that “no-one questions the commercial competence of the ECB any more.” On hearing the news of the charges against Stanford, he justified his decision saying that the contract with him was signed with “the best of intentions.”

Any checks on Stanford were based on his ability to meet his financial obligations to the ECB, not on his moral worthiness. Clarke fought for some particle of moral ground by arguing that the ECB “haven’t promoted his products.”

Yet The Daily Telegraph is suggesting a reason for Stanford’s involvement in cricket with England, namely that he was preparing to set up a UK base for his financial empire.

Clarke is an experienced businessman who now lacks credibility as the head of the ECB. To argue that they were not promoting the Stanford product is preposterous considering the Stanford 20/20 Tournament was named after him. That Clarke didn’t see or know about Stanford’s dubious background further weakens his standing.

Ultimately, Clarke was appointed in order to bring more money into cricket. He jumped into bed with a fraudster because he couldn’t see beyond the dollar bills. As Simon Barnes wrote in The Times: “If it’s all right to make money, then it must be important to make as much as possible.”

This is the mentality behind the Stanford contests, just as it is behind the Indian Premier League. It is no longer important what the sport stands for as it becomes exploited as a means to generate cash flow. Ex-England captain Mike Atherton best summed it up by saying that “when a game is played for money only, it is worthless.”

Officials will need to ask themselves, which is the more important: the sport or making money?

Cricket will survive, but will it learn? What measures are there to ensure an Allen Stanford character does not get involved in the lucrative IPL, for example?

The real sufferers, though, are those who will have lost their livelihoods and savings in Antigua, where an estimated five percent of the population is employed in a Stanford organisation. Deposits in Antiguan banks are not guaranteed and a nation of 70,000 is unlikely to be able to afford to bail out investors.

Whilst English cricket looks like it's run by incompetents and the IPL will provide opportunities for more Stanfords, it’s the Antiguan workers who are the real losers. Unlike Clarke, Pietersen, and Botham, they had little choice about being duped by this fraudster and can expect no compensation.