WALL STREET VETERAN ARRESTED FOR RUNNING MASSIVE PONZI SCHEME…IMPLICATED IN $50BILLION FRAUD

Bernard Madoff, a quiet force on Wall Street for decades, was arrested and charged last week Thursday with allegedly running a $50 billion “Ponzi scheme” in what may rank among the biggest fraud cases ever Reuter has reported.

The former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market is best known as the founder of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, the closely-held market-making firm he launched in 1960. But he also ran a hedge fund that U.S. prosecutors said racked up $50 billion of fraudulent losses.

Madoff told senior employees of his firm last week Wednesday that “it’s all just one big lie” and that it was “basically, a giant Ponzi scheme,” with estimated investor losses of about $50 billion, according to the U.S. Attorney’s criminal complaint against him.

A Ponzi scheme is a swindle offering unusually high returns, with early investors paid off with money from later investors.

Last Thursday, two agents for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation entered Madoff’s New York apartment.

“There is no innocent explanation,” Madoff said, according to the criminal complaint. He told the agents that it was all his fault, and that he “paid investors with money that wasn’t there,” according to the complaint.

The $50 billion allegedly lost would make the hedge fund one of the biggest frauds in history. When former energy trading giant Enron filed for bankruptcy in 2001, one of the largest at the time, it had $63.4 billion in assets.

U.S. prosecutors charged Madoff, 70, with a single count of securities fraud. They said he faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $5 million.

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed separate civil charges against Madoff.

“Our complaint alleges a stunning fraud — both in terms of scope and duration,” said Scott Friestad, the SEC’s deputy enforcer. “We are moving quickly and decisively to stop the scheme and protect the remaining assets for investors.”

Dan Horwitz, Madoff’s lawyer, told reporters outside a downtown Manhattan courtroom where he was charged, “Bernard Madoff is a longstanding leader in the financial services industry. We will fight to get through this unfortunate set of events.”

A shaken Madoff stared at the ground as reporters peppered him with questions. He was released after posting a $10 million bond secured by his Manhattan apartment.

Authorities, citing a document filed by Madoff with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on January 7, 2008, said Madoff’s investment advisory business served between 11 and 25 clients and had a total of about $17.1 billion in assets under management. Those clients may have included other funds that in turn had many investors.

The SEC said it appeared that virtually all of the assets of his hedge fund business were missing.

CONSISTENT RETURNS

An investor in the hedge fund said it generated consistent returns, which was part of the attraction. Since 2004, annual returns averaged around 8 percent and ranged from 7.3 percent to 9 percent, but last decade returns were typically in the low-double digits, the investor said.

The fund told investors it followed a “split strike conversion” strategy, which entailed owning stock and buying and selling options to limit downside risk, said the investor, who requested anonymity.

Jon Najarian, an acquaintance of Madoff who has traded options for decades, said “Many of us questioned how that strategy could generate those kinds of returns so consistently.”

Najarian, co-founder of optionmonster.com, once tried to buy what was then the Cincinnati Stock Exchange when Madoff was a major seatholder on the exchange. Najarian met with Madoff, who rejected his bid.

“He always seemed to be a straight shooter. I was shocked by this news,” Najarian said.

‘LOCK AND KEY’

Madoff had long kept the financial statements for his hedge fund business under “lock and key,” according to prosecutors, and was “cryptic” about the firm. The hedge fund business was located on a separate floor from the market-making business.

Madoff has been conducting a Ponzi scheme since at least 2005, the U.S. said. Around the first week of December, Madoff told a senior employee that hedge fund clients had requested about $7 billion of their money back, and that he was struggling to pay them.

Investors have been pulling money out of hedge funds, even those performing well, in an effort to reduce risk in their portfolios as the global economy weakens.

The fraud alleged here could further encourage investors to pull money from hedge funds.

“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 hedge fund Seabreeze Partners Management. Kass noted that investors that put in requests to withdraw their money can subsequently decide to leave it in the fund if they wish.

Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities has more than $700 million in capital, according to its website.

Madoff remains a member of Nasdaq OMX Group Inc’s nominating committee, and his firm is a market maker for about 350 Nasdaq stocks, including Apple, EBay and Dell, according to the website.

The website also states that Madoff himself has “a personal interest in maintaining the unblemished record of value, fair-dealing, and high ethical standards that has always been the firm’s hallmark.”

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UNSPENT FUND: FED. MINISTRIES ON LAST MINUTE SPENDING SPREE TO BEAT YAR’ADUA’s DEADLINE

Nigeria’s president, Umar Musa Yar’Adua may have placed excessive premium on the integrity of the federal ministries, government departmental and agencies to feel secured enough to inform the national assembly of part financing its budget deficit in 2009 through unspent funds taken back from federal ministries, departments and agencies.

FORTUNE&CLASS Weekly discreet investigations in Abuja, have, however, shown that the president and very senior officials in federal government ministries and agencies may be working at cross purposes.

“Even before the coming of the Yar’Adua’s administration, it has been made mandatory during the Obasanjo’s presidency for federal ministries and departmental agencies to rule off their accounts by the 15th of December.” A source in the federal ministry of finance informed. “The idea is that after the rule off, no expenditure aside salaries and allowances are allowed until the succeeding budgetary allocation are effected.” The finance ministry source added.

This year end account rule off had turned a mere paper directive until the assumption of office of President Yar’Adua who seemed to decide to make capital of the directive he had inherited from the Obasanjo administration, the seriousness of the administration in this regard was orchestrated when the erstwhile ministers in the federal ministry of health were forced to resign and prosecuted in court on account of an alleged N300million unspent fund in 2007.

FORTUNE&CLASS Weekly cross checks in Abuja, however, revealed that the frontal measures taken against the sacked ministers of health might have hardened the resolve of strategically placed civil servants that had become annual beneficiaries of unspent funds already in the kitty of the ministries.

An insider in the federal ministry of information and communication told this magazine last week that the officials in the account and audit units of the ministry have been busy over the last three weeks as they feverishly dish out contracts and supplies notes so as to eat up a large percentage of what is left of the unspent fund.

“The president thinks he can beat us to the game but we are better at it,” the source boasted. “Civil servants are smarter in these matters, is it not about filling out the appropriate vouchers and back dating them where necessary? In fact, we know how to settle the officials from the ministry of finance that usually come to supervise the account rule off.”

Another source, in an aside with this magazine explained that the cornering of unspent fund in federal ministries and parastatals is limited to very senior officials and staff members in the account and audit department. In the light of the seriousness of the present administration and the oversight function of members of the National Assembly, the source confided that these senior officials agree among themselves on a predetermined amount of unspent fund they will return to the government as unspent fund and also find the appropriate way to dispense with the percentage of unspent fund they have decided to corner.

Several civil servants also spoke of the federal government renewed efforts at ensuring accountability in service like directing that henceforth, any civil servant that was to proceed on a conference; seminar or any form of out station official duty would have the conference or seminar fee paid directly to the accounts of the facilitating body. This is contrary to the tradition where participant (s) from the ministry is/are given conference or seminar participating in cash. A curious angle to seminar or conference participation in the traditional sense is that some conference or seminar fees are inflated that after cash payment to the participating civil servant, such would just cream off the difference an pocket it while another may collect the participating fee and out of station allowance and altogether abandon the conference or seminar.

Beside, overnight and out of station allowances are now paid direct to the account of recipient civil servant than collection by cash as part of the new accountability regime.

Some of the civil servants FORTUNE&CLASS Weekly interacted with said these measures have been eroded with the opening of multiple accounts. Asserting the fact that it may be near impossible for the federal government to arrest the trend of frantically spending off unspent fund in a ministry within a short period, Mr. Nathaniel Cole, a forensic accounting expert and anti fraud specialist said that the model of conventional auditing that the government depends on to stop the diversion of unspent fund into private pockets shows that government is not serious about tracking unspent fund:

“I don’t think government is serious about this. It is obvious that the officials that are going to audit the ministries are interested parties so there is no way they can objectively audit the account to ascertain how unspent fund would have been tampered with. What government needs at such time like this is the service of forensic accountants, because, in truth, a certain aspect of civil servants efforts to corner the unspent fund has to do with some criminality in the area of filling vouchers and back dating them. Only forensic accountants can handle such case. For forensic accountant, it is easy to pinpoint the exact culprits in the account manipulation.” Cole said.

NIGERIA TO BENEFIT FROM OBAMA’s “USE IT OR LEAVE IT” POLICY

The expectant echoes of the Barack Obama’s soon to be inaugurated presidency in the United States of America might have recorded its first true translation of the high hopes of Nigerians over the Obama presidency to a commitment of assistance soon after the inauguration of the first black man to emerge president of the United States of America.

Yet, this support, in its present form, is not a programmed or any of the contemplated official aids or support for Nigeria by the United States of America’s president elect. Rather, Fortune and Class Weekly has been informed that a USA based non for profit, info-tech focused organization, Saigant Technologies, was alert enough to locate an immediate opportunity that can be utilized for the benefit of Nigerians in the first set of economic stimulus package the president elect as assured Americans he is going to introduce to revitalize the recession bound American economy.

Mr. Obama, had on Saturday, December 6, 2008, in a radio address on the economy reviewed how 533,000 jobs were lost in the US and how jobs lost alone in November became the single worst month of job loss in over three decades.

“Yesterday, (December 5, 2008) we received another painful reminder of the serious economic challenge our country is facing when we learned that 533,000 jobs were lost in November alone, the single worst month of job loss in over three decades. That puts the total number of jobs lost in this recession at nearly 2 million.” Obama said in the broadcast

Highlighting the areas of worries for the average American, Obama said:

“But this isn’t about numbers. It’s about each of the families those numbers represent. It’s about the rising unease and frustration that so many of you are feeling during this holiday season. Will you be able to put your kids through college? Will you be able to afford health care? Will you be able to retire with dignity and security? Will your job or your husband’s job or your daughter’s or son’s job be the next one cut?”

“These are the questions that keep so many Americans awake at night. But it is not the first time these questions have been asked. We have faced difficult times before, times when our economic destiny seemed to be slipping out of our hands. And at each moment, we have risen to meet the challenge, as one people united by a sense of common purpose. And I know that Americans can rise to the moment once again.”

The president elect thereafter informed the American public of his economic recovery plan when he assured that:

“But we need action – and action now. That is why I have asked my economic team to develop an economic recovery plan for both Wall Street and Main Street that will help save or create at least two and a half million jobs, while rebuilding our infrastructure, improving our schools, reducing our dependence on oil, and saving billions of dollars.

“We won’t do it the old Washington way. We won’t just throw money at the problem. We’ll measure progress by the reforms we make and the results we achieve — by the jobs we create, by the energy we save, by whether America is more competitive in the world.

“Today, I am announcing a few key parts of my plan. First, we will launch a massive effort to make public buildings more energy-efficient. Our government now pays the highest energy bill in the world. We need to change that. We need to upgrade our federal buildings by replacing old heating systems and installing efficient light bulbs. That won’t just save you, the American taxpayer, billions of dollars each year. It will put people back to work.

The economic stimulus plan which is now known in some circle as the “Use it or Lose it” policy has as part of the plans the creation of millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in America’s national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s:

“We’ll invest your precious tax dollars in new and smarter ways, and we’ll set a simple rule – use it or lose it. If a state doesn’t act quickly to invest in roads and bridges in their communities, they’ll lose the money.”

It is, however, in the president elect economic recovery plan to launch sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings and to repair broken schools by making them energy-efficient, and putting new computers in the classrooms that Nigerians stand to benefit in the immediate.

An official of Saigant Technologies, an organization that was established by a US based Nigerian, said a review of the US president elect radio broadcast of December 6, 2008, provided an immediate answer to the limitation to owning lap tops and desk top computers by Nigerian students.

“You should recall that the Mr. Obama talked about renewing American schools and highways, and about renewing information superhighway. For the president elect, it is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption. He argued that in the country that invented the internet, every child should have the chance to get online, and promised that they’ll get that chance when he becomes President – because that’s how he wished to strengthen America’s competitiveness in the world. Now for us in Nigeria, the specific highlight of information technology overhaul as part of the economic stimulus plan of the president elect presented a begging opportunity to imagine what the incoming American government would do with those computers, lap tops and those IT accessories the government would be replacing in order to galvanize the American domestic economy.”

“We realized that the US government would have problems disposing off these equipment which, if compared to our standard of usage here in Nigeria, would look relatively new and in the light of the limited access to computer sets and lap tops in Nigeria, the simple logic was to approach the likely channel through which we could connect with the president elect to present our proposal of moving the American used laptops and computers to those that would need them in Nigeria.” The Saigant source said.

“We made a direct offer to the president elect through Change.Gov website of the president elect and the response is quite assuring. There is a commitment to accessing about 200,000 computer sets and laptops free of charge over the next two years that Mr. Obama would be implementing the first leg of the economic stimulus programme. Our responsibility will only be limited to footing the transportation and clearing cost of the laptops and computer sets here in Nigeria.” The source further affirmed.

“This will be the first major impact of the Obama presidency on the average Nigerian; our intention is to use the opportunity to present the 200,000 plus laptops and computer sets to Nigerians at a no price rate, to boost the nation’s capacity for information technology.”

SKYE BANK DROPS ‘HAKUNA MATATA’ CAMPAIGN?

Viewers and indeed observers are wondering what necessitated the stoppage of ‘Hakuna Matata’ (Don’t worry), the new campaign launched within the year.

It has been replaced with “Say Yes’, a very successful campaign (that became an anthem in virtually every home and ring-tone of several phones) that was adopted by the bank post capitalization.

‘Hakuna Matata’ was obviously enjoying wide acceptance until the interruption, that saw the re-emergence of the very old ‘Say Yes’ television commercial.

‘Say Yes’ naturally does not have the steam that it had until it was replaced. No official position has been taken to explain the strategic change or how long the ‘impasse’ to precede a new campaign will last.

Dangote telecoms outfit eyes 2009

Businessman extraordinaire, Alhaji Aliko Dangote’s telecommunication outfit, Alheri, may eventually take off in 2009.

Heard from the grapevine that Dangote is already dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s to ensure a successful operation when eventually it takes off next year.

Industry pundits are, however, pointing out that he may be facing challenges in accesing loan from banks who are skeptical on the success of such a venture in view of the existing competition in the industry.

Considering the huge capital demand of the venture, it may not be a worthy risk that will be profitable.

The not too successful outing of a telecom outfit, under a popular bank, is a ready case-study.

As published in Issue 48 and uploaded on http://www.fnc0486.wordpress.com

YAR’ADUA AWARDS POWER PLANT CONSTRUCTION TO INDICTED COMPANIES

Nigeria, still smarting from a failed energy policy and implementation procedure during the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo presidency may yet be set for another merry-go-round in the endless search for the appropriate strategy and implementation procedure to increase capacity for electricity power generation under the administration of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua.

A probe panel empanelled by the House of Representatives, had earlier in the year roused extreme sentiments in the Nigerian public place with revelations of billions of dollars parceled out to contractors of the National Independent Power Project without commensurate result arriving from the fund used in mobilising the contractors.

Though the report of the probe panel is yet to be debated in the House, snippets of the reports and presentations during the seating of the panel had indicted a number of contractors that were said to have been mobilized but had refused to proceed on the contract implementation to appreciable level.

The general tone of the power probe and the obvious public odium it generated apparently informed incumbent president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to insist on an overhaul of the structure and model of the NIPP as envisioned by the erstwhile administration of Obasanjo.

Latest reports from the power sector indicate that appointment of two of the companies alleged to have been indicted in non performance in the controversial NIPP execution of the last regime have been selected by the Yar’Adua’s regime as contractors that would construct power plant projects in Kaduna State.

The House panel had been critical of Rockson Engineering Limited and General Electric, among other companies that received NIPP’s mobilisation funding for several jobs carried out in the Niger Delta area. The Committee said it was worried that NIPP paid Rockson Engineering limited N15, 881,489,984.50k for the Egbema Power project valued at N16, 678,677,726.20k, representing 92 percent while the work done was 19 percent while General Electric was also alleged to have been mobilised $196million without commensurate project advancement.

The panel had concluded that Rockson Engineering should be further investigated, “for incompetence, lack of execution capability and poor performance on Alaoji I, Omoku, Egbema and Gbaran-Ubie power stations and complicity in unreasonably high contract sums claimed for projects.”

Though the two companies had in a press release noted that they had been waiting for Government to strengthen the Imo River Bridge or to arrange for construction of a by-pass (ramp with jetty) for two years. They argued that both the 300 megawatt steam turbines had arrived Onne Port River State and parts already delivered to the Alaoji project site, the two turbine shell which weigh over 200 tonnes each cannot be delivered to site due to the restricted weight limit of the Imo River Bridge.

They also argued that the four (4) General Electric Frame 9E Gas Turbines are also held at Onne Port due to the same reason. They demanded that Government must resolve the issue of crossing the Imo River, which is outside their scope of work, to actualize the Alaoji Power Plant project.

Concerned stakeholders in the Niger Delta however reasoned that GE and Rockson Engineering were not able to deliver on their contract commitment and that it would disastrous to trust the two companies, owned by influential indigenous contractors with another set of contracts in the power sector.

As published on Issue 48 and submitted on http://www.fnc0486.wordpress.com