The Stanford Saga – Chapter 4: Where Is a Ponzi Scheme “Headquartered,” Anyway?

The Stanford Saga – Chapter 4: Where Is a Ponzi Scheme “Headquartered,” Anyway?

This blog has intermittently followed the Texas-sized contest for control over now-defunct financial and investment entities once operated by Sir Allen Stanford.  That contest has pitted Antiguan liquidators Peter Wastell and Nigel Hamilton-Smith against federal receiver Ralph Janvey.  Prior posts are located here, here, and here.

Approximately one month ago, US District Judge David Godbey permitted Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith to commence a Chapter 15 case on behalf of Stanford International Bank (SIB), headquartered in Antigua.  A hearing regarding the liquidators’ request for US recognition of SIB’s liquidation is tentatively calendared for mid-July.  The parties have submitted a joint status report and have also filed further briefing on the question of the Stanford entities’ “Center of Main Interests” (COMI) – which the parties believe will determine the location of a “main proceeding” for the Stanford entities, and will further determine what (if any) recognition US courts will give that proceeding.

Briefing and evidence submitted to date provides a preview of the parties’ positions, as well as on the issues that the Judge Janvey will need to address:

COMI.  A supplemental affidavit submitted by Mr. Hamilton-Smith in support of recognition appears to stress both (i) SIB’s corporate separation from other Stanford entities; and (ii) its function as the effective “nerve center” of global Stanford investment operations.  In a 50-page response to the Liquidators’ petition for recognition, Mr. Janvey argues that (i) the Stanford entities’ principal interests, assets, and management are not in Antigua; (ii) SIB was a mere “shell” for a fraudulent scheme headquarted in, and implemented from, the US; and (iii) COMI is the location from which the fraud emanates, and not from the location where investors have been duped into believing a legitimate business was run.  And lest we forget matters of policy, the Receiver offers the somewhat conclusory arguments that because a receivership (rather than a bank liquidation) is the appropriate means of investigating a fraud, because the Antiguan government is somehow too close to this liquidation, and because the liquidators have allegedly attempted to “end run” the Receivership by obtaining a recognition order in Canada (an allegation bitterly contested by the Antiguan Liquidators), recognition of a Chapter 15 would be against public policy.  A concurrent response filed by the SEC largely concurs in these arguments.  The SEC appears to rely heavily on the US citizenship of Mr. Stanford and most members of his board of directors (in fact, “Sir Allen” holds joint US-Antiguan citizenship), the purported location of management decisions (according to the SEC, within the US), and the comparative dollar volume of SIB investment sales in the US as the primary basis for opposing the request to recognize SIB’s Antiguan liquidation as the “main proceeding.”

Substantive Consolidation?  The parties’ briefs to date raise the issue of substantive consolidation (or “aggregation”).  The Liquidators advise Judge Godbey that they expect the Receiver to argue in support of substantive consolidation of the Stanford entities.  Mr. Janvey never directly addresses his position on substantive consolidation, calling it a “bankruptcy question” which is appropriate only in the event that multiple Stanford entities find themselves in bankruptcy in the US (a possibility triggered by filings briefly mentioned below).  However, Janvey goes on to reiterate his position that the Stanford entities must be treated as part of a single, integrated receivership, since the Stanford entities operated as a single “integrated network.”

Involuntary Proceedings?  The parties’ joint status report mentions a request by certain investors for permission to file involuntary bankruptcies in the US against one or more of the Stanford entities.  That request has been opposed by the Receiver, who argues that rather than bankruptcy, a federal receivership (i) is really the best way to adminsiter an alleged Ponzi scheme; (ii) protects creditors’ and investors’ due process (and bankruptcy doesn’t?!); and (iii) provides the maximum degree of flexibility, essential to the equitable relief and redress this case requires.  The Examiner disagrees with the Receiver, suggesting that Judge Godbey can – and, indeed, should – evaluate the relative merits of a bankruptcy (rather than a receivership) for the Stanford entities, but cautions that the investors must demonstrate the relative benefits of such a proceeding vis á vis a receivership.

Cooperation?  In a now-familiar refrain, the Receiver and the Antiguan Liquidators blame each other for failing to cooperate, all the while holding out their own respective proposed cooperation schemes.  Mr. Hamilton-Smith’s affidavit (mentioned above) proposes a general framework of cooperation in the event that a request for recognition of SIB’s liquidation is approved.  The same investors seeking permission to commence an involuntary proceeding (also mentioned above) argue that, in fact, Chapter 15 provides the best vehicle for cross-border coordination no matter where the “center of main interests” is ultimately determined.

Further briefing – and some decisions – are due later in the month.

Overall, it’s shaping up to be a hot summer in Texas.

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