Page last updated at 18:23 GMT, Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Antigua reacts to Stanford charges

Customers queue outside a Bank of Antigua branch in St John's
Bank of Antigua customers in St John's following news of alleged fraud

The Caribbean island of Antigua is reeling from the news that its single biggest private investor has been charged over a massive fraud.

With off-shore and on-shore banking interests, the Texan billionaire Sir Allen Stanford was a prominent financial figure not just in Antigua but around the world.

But his influence - as an employer, a sponsor, and a banker - could change dramatically as he faces charges by the US Securities and Exchange Commission over an alleged $8bn (5.6bn) investment fraud.

While the SEC described it as "fraud of shocking magnitude that has spread its tentacles throughout the world", some residents of Antigua's capital St John's were coping with the fallout a lot closer to home.

People queued outside the Bank of Antigua branches - some to check their deposits were safe, while others were taking no chances and wanted to withdraw all their money.

The Bank of Antigua is owned by the Stanford Financial Group, but is not part of the Antigua-based Stanford International Bank, nor the Stanford Group or investment advisor Stanford Capital Management - all of which have had their assets frozen.

Extra security

But at a branch near St John's airport there were about 100 people queuing, being let into the branch a few at a time, said BBC Caribbean Service reporter Colin James.

Stanford International Bank, Antigua
The assets of Stanford International Bank have been frozen

While security guards are usually stationed at the bank there were extra on duty, with police also present.

But the mood among the waiting customers was friendly, with no hostility or arguments - although one woman said the wait was so long she had to leave to get lunch before returning.

She was concerned that she was going to lose all her money, but was aware that the East Caribbean Central Bank had urged people not to rush to withdraw.

Generous support

One businessman said he was disappointed that people might be rushing to withdraw funds, saying that the Bank of Antigua had been generous to the island nation and needed the citizens' support at this troubled time.

He was heading in to make a deposit.

Another customer told our correspondent there were people actually opening accounts inside the branch - an indication that not everyone was worried.

But one staff member, who had worked at the bank for 11 years, was worried for his job.

The whereabouts of Sir Allen are not known, but his customers are making sure they know where their money is.

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