Page last updated at 17:46 GMT, Friday, 12 December 2008

Fund boss held 'for $50bn fraud'

Wall Street sign
The Madoff fraud could be one of the biggest yet

The former chairman of the Nasdaq stock market has been arrested and charged with securities fraud, in what may be one of the biggest fraud cases yet.

Bernard Madoff ran a hedge fund which ran up $50bn (33.5bn) of fraudulent losses and which he called "one big lie", prosecutors allege.

Mr Madoff is alleged to have used money from new investors to pay off existing investors in the fund.

His lawyer said he would fight to get through these "unfortunate events".

The 70-year-old has been released on $10m bail.

High-profile victims

Bramdean Alternatives has emerged as a victim of the fraud, with 9.5% of its investments exposed to the New York broker, it said in a statement on its website.

Nicola Horlick, the high profile fund manager labelled superwoman by the UK press, is the company's nominated fund manager.

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In an interview earlier this year with the Financial Times, Ms Horlick praised Mr Madoff.

"He is someone who is very, very good at calling the US equity market," she said.

She added: "This guy has managed to return 1% -1.2% per month, year after year after year."

'Pyramid scheme'

Mr Madoff founded Bernard L Madoff Investment Securities in 1960, but also ran a separate hedge fund business.

According to the US Attorney's criminal complaint filed in court, Mr Madoff told at least three employees on Wednesday that the hedge fund business - which served up to 25 clients and had $17.1bn of money under management - was a fraud and had been insolvent for years, losing at least $50bn.

He said he was "finished", that he had "absolutely nothing" and that "it's all just one big lie", and that it was "basically, a giant Ponzi scheme", the complaint said.

He told them that he planned to surrender to the authorities but not before he used his last $200m-$300m to pay "selected employees, family and friends".

Under a Ponzi scheme, which is similar to pyramid schemes, investors are promised very high returns on their investment, while in reality early investors are paid with money collected from later investors.

On Thursday, two agents from the FBI went to his apartment.

Stock market ticker
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According to the complaint, Mr Madoff told them he knew why they were there, and said there was "no innocent explanation".

He told them he "paid investors with money that wasn't there", that he was "broke" and "insolvent", that it "could not go on" and he expected to go to jail.

Stunning fraud

If found guilty, US prosecutors say he could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $5m.

"Our complaint alleges a stunning fraud - both in terms of scope and duration," said Scott Friestad at the SEC. "We are moving quickly and decisively to stop the scheme and protect the remaining assets for investors."

Dan Horwitz, Mr Madoff's lawyer, said: "Bernard Madoff is a longstanding leader in the financial services industry. We will fight to get through this unfortunate set of events."

Many investors have been pulling money out of hedge funds in an effort to reduce their exposure to risk.

"This is a major blow to confidence that is already shattered - anyone on the fence will probably try to take their money out," said Doug Kass, president of Seabreeze Partners Management, a hedge fund.

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