Asst Attorney General Lanny Breuer reads the charges against Sir Allen
Texan billionaire Sir Allen Stanford has been charged in the US with fraud and obstruction.
Announcing the indictment, the justice department said it related to a $7bn ($4.2bn) scheme to defraud investors.
Soon after, the 59-year-old appeared in court in Virginia and was remanded in custody pending a full detention hearing to be held in Texas.
He already faces civil charges over an alleged fraud worth $8bn - charges he denies.
Sir Allen turned himself in to the FBI on Thursday after a warrant was issued for his arrest.
'Too good to be true'
Sir Allen and six others are facing charges.
He is confident that a fair jury will find him not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing
Dick DeGuerin, Sir Allen's lawyer,
The justice department said the 50-page indictment accused Sir Allen and some of the other alleged co-conspirators of engaging in a scheme to defraud investors who purchased $7bn in certificates of deposit from Stanford International Bank, located in Antigua.
It said they "promised returns that were too good to be true".
US Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said the indictment "charges Stanford with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and securities fraud".
He listed the charges as: "Seven counts of wire fraud, 10 counts of mail fraud, conspiracy to obstruct an investigation for the Securities and Exchange Commission, obstruction of an investigation by the SEC and conspiracy to commit money laundering."
If convicted on all counts, Sir Allen could face up to 250 years in prison.
Sir Allen hosted a $20m cricket extravaganza in Antigua last year
A few hours after the announcement, Sir Allen appeared in court in Richmond, Virginia.
The BBC's Greg Wood in Richmond says Sir Allen wore an open-necked white shirt and stood in court as the 21 charges against him were read out.
He told Magistrate Hannah Lauck he understood the charges but he was not asked to enter a plea.
Sir Allen's lawyers argued for his release pending the trial but the prosecution said he had spun a web of deceit over 10 years and there was a danger he might flee.
The judge ordered Sir Allen be held pending a full detention hearing, saying there was "sufficient evidence to warrant" one. Sir Allen chose to have the hearing in Houston, Texas.
Asked to comment on the issue earlier, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: "Whether it's this indictment or previous indictments... There are those whose outsized greed robbed millions of people of their savings."
The other Stanford Financial Group executives charged are Laura Pendergest-Holt, 35, Gilberto Lopez, 66, and Mark Kuhrt, 37.
The indictment also said Sir Allen made corrupt payments to Leroy King, 63, a former head of Antigua's financial services regulatory commission, who has also been charged.
Stanford employee Bruce Perraud, 42, has been charged with destruction of records.
A separate indictment charged Stanford executive James M Davis, 60, with fraud and obstruction.
Dick DeGuerin, Sir Allen's lawyer, has said his client will fight the allegations.
WHAT IS A PONZI SCHEME?
A fraudulent investment scheme paying investors from money paid in by other investors rather than real profits
Named after Charles Ponzi who notoriously used the technique in the United States in the 1920s
Differs from pyramid selling in that individuals all tend to invest with the same person
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