Tuesday, 24 January 2023 17:12

Don’t focus on the sprat…time to reel in the big red snappers!

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By Andrew Clunis

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Usain Bolt must feel like Lewis’ Carroll’s enigmatic character Alice, in the much-celebrated tome, Alice in Wonderland, as the SSL saga becomes ‘curiouser and curiouser’.

He must also feel like he’s in purgatory, nervously awaiting his final destination…and as he floats in and out of slumber, he must be wishing that the recurring, frightening nightmare, starring Jean-Ann Panton, Stocks and Securities Limited and members of his management team, past and present, was a 60-metre dash, over and done in a flash.

Usain Bolt Sleep

Bob Marley sang “One good thing about music, when it hits, you feel no pain. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of truth, especially the hard cold truth. When it hits you, it can be excruciating and debilitating.

The truth Usain Bolt is grappling with, is the fact that he might not be able to recover a red cent of his US$12 million. Ouch!

One highly respected finance professional told Jamaica Times that this was a distinct possibility. “If indeed, anything can be recovered, it will take years of very detailed searching and navigating the choppy waters of offshore banking in some of the world’s murkiest financial markets. As it stands, there is so much uncertainty about what actually transpired that it is very difficult to even know where to begin,” said the expert who is a certified fraud examiner.

Jean-Ann Panton has hogged the headlines, largely because of the shock value in her sworn statement on the level of fraudulent activities she undertook at SSL. But as the weave is untangled, she is slowly paling in significance as the glare of the spotlight slowly illuminates other members of the SSL cast and Bolt's management as to whether they upheld their responsibilities.

Business partners and close pals Zachary Harding and Mark Croskery, former CEO’s of SSL have made public statements outlining their detachment from and lack of knowledge of the shenanigans that have gone on at SSL for almost 15 years.

Croskery has threatened lawsuits if his name is in any way associated with the massive fraud at the institution where he and his father, the founder, Hugh Croskery were the backbone for decades. Hugh Croskery has also denied knowledge.

Let us declare, Harding and Croskery sirs, that Jamaica Times has not in any way suggested that you were associated with such financial debauchery. You have been known to be fine gentlemen of business and long may that reputation continue to hold.

Zachary Harding has been doing the rounds in the media, vigorously declaring his innocence and defending his character.

But in the act of so doing, he publicly exposed his managerial ineptitude and naivety, like ripped underclothes swaying in the breeze on the front yard line, in the midday sun.

He professes that he did not know that Usain Bolt or any company in which he is a director was a client of the organization he led for 33 months. 

During his incubation period, preparing for Day 1 on the job, he would have had meetings with the senior brass at the company from the managers to senior directors. Did he not query at anytime the true health of the organization and identified the pillars of its revenues? Wasn’t he curious as to who held the largest account with the company? Didn’t he plan to invite such persons or entities to the Christmas party and other soirees?

We all know that there are no secrets in board meetings. Somebody always has to scratch their itch afterwards, especially when the topic is juicy...and people are now prepared to talk.

Word is that Bolt’s handlers opened the account with US$200,000 shortly after his exploits at the London Olympic games in 2012. The account was kept very busy over the ensuing years as the dough rolled in from endorsements and his historic exploits on the track. He kept investing more and more and the account supposedly grew over time to a whopping US$12 million plus, according to the statements issued in November last year.

From all indications, Bolt’s financial team were getting regular statements on the account. It now appears that for a very long time those statements were fraudulent, created to give the impression of a hardworking investment.

But did Usain Bolt’s management team, including his decades-long business manager Norman Peart conduct their fiduciary duty with the requisite diligence, to periodically check where and how the money was being invested? Was it going into construction projects, stocks and bonds, government paper? Was SSL making loans to individuals and businesses from the funds? How often did they meet with the portfolio manager at SSL to examine the account and verify the statements?

This was their job for crying out loud…they were not required to vomit up their guts at 4am every day, even in far flung quarries! They were simply to look after the man’s money and ensure that he was getting a reasonable return on his investment. The revelations point to serious dereliction on their part, but the investigations will reveal the facts. And how foolish were they to have invested so much money with one investment firm?

The question has correctly been raised: How much of Usain Bolt’s money, after the initial investment, really went into SSL over the years?

Zachary Harding says that only Jean-Ann Panton dealt with Usain Bolt’s handlers over the years. Was she under any kind of supervision at all? For those accounts that she admitted she embezzled, was she drawing the vouchers and signing them all by herself over 15 years?

Makes for an easy day at the office – don’t you think?

What was the relationship between Panton and one of Bolt’s handlers, beyond being a ‘trusted’ wealth advisor? Hmmmm!

Word from an impeccable source is that suspicions were only raised in Bolt’s camp when Panton approached a member of his management team, declaring that she was in deep trouble and needed a temporary bailout. This was about the same time she was parting ways with SSL.

So I guess you could say, she shot herself in the foot, hence the walker and wheelchair.

But seriously, her sworn statement shows that Bolt was not among the clients she had nonconsensual engagements with.

Was that why, if indeed she did, she felt comfortable in approaching them for a bailout?

In the holy basket of five fishes and two loaves, which ultimately fed the multitude, she now seems like a sprat among ‘red’ snappers.

This SSL affair has unveiled soiled undies that are also now hanging on the front yard line, worn by the FSC and the government at large.

Where does the National Health Fund get $740 million to invest in companies like SSL when the poor and desolate cannot afford medication because of the small subsidies?

For years, the NHT has been a law to itself doing whatever it wants with contributors’ money, so it is no surprise that they had a tidy $239 million invested with SSL as well.

What business do agencies of the state have investing taxpayers’ monies? Aren’t they given subventions to assist in fulfilling their mandates?  And those that are not fully government funded are they not expected to earn from the services they provide in the marketplace?

Aren’t those funds from the consolidated fund and if the agencies find themselves with operating surpluses, shouldn’t those funds be returned or set off against the next budget period? How have they accounted to the Ministry of Finance for expenditure of those monies? Were they being reflected in their annual financial statements and if so, how were they denoted? Which other agencies have similar investments and with which companies?

Madam Auditor General – wake up! You are apolitical and the people are more likely to trust your words in this matter than they would the political gatekeepers.

Zachary Harding has been singing the praises of the FSC. And wouldn’t you? Surely you don’t bite the hand that feeds you and from the information available, the FSC should have taken control of SSL many years ago.

Repeated audits showed that the company was on a ventilator for many years with one of the most recent in June 2022, showing accumulated deficit of as high as $161 million and liabilities in excess of $73 million.

The audit pointed out that “continuation of the Group and the Company was dependent on continued financial support. The Group and the Company remains (sic) dependent on their ultimate parent (MFS Acquisition Limited) for continuous financial support.”

This was one of two audits the company underwent while Harding was at the helm. He said both were submitted to the FSC. So why wasn’t it clear to the FSC that there was a Tsunami on the horizon? Why didn’t they send in their own people to take over the operations if they were fearful that heavy sanctioning and suspension of SSL’s licence would lead to a nasty, public industry fallout? Were there other considerations that led to them staying their hands for such a protracted period?

Don’t we all want to know…and we will find out soon enough. The FBI and Scotland Yard are on their way; So no more kids gloves and backdoor deals.

The outside help should be given as much freedom and autonomy as necessary to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation. One suspects that the sleepless nights are growing longer for many of those concerned. But all is not lost. There is sill time to come clean and knock on the DPP’s door for a deal. Why remain in the net with the big fish, when they’re the ones the fisherman is really interested in?

Last modified on Tuesday, 24 January 2023 17:35