By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – The government expects to complete evaluation of Standford Bank’s assets and operations in Venezuela within the next 15 days with a view to selling these, Finance Minister Alí Rodríguez Araque said Wednesday.
The government has appointed an “intervention board” to oversee Stanford’s Venezuelan operations in the immediate wake of the news that Allen Stanford, the founder of institution, had been charged with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission in New York.
At the time, the government emphasized that this measure did not imply a state takeover at Stanford, and that a quick sale was envisaged. Rodríguez Araque said that several potential buyers had shown interest, but declined to name them.
In his latest remarks, the minister again said offers were on the table – and, again, he wasn’t prepared to air any names or numbers in the public domain. However, he made it quite clear that conditions would be attached to any potential purchase.
Investors would have to be prepared to accept not only deposits held by Stanford Bank Venezuela (SBV), but also any outstanding debts at the bank, he said.
All financial operations at SBV including customer withdrawals and deposits were suspended once the bank’s troubles became clear last week.
The intervention came after a run of withdrawals by customers from SBV’s 15 branches in Venezuela on Tuesday last week. The authorities have not said when and if the bank will reopen for business, but that is not expected to happen until the issues of evaluation and sale are resolved.
In a parallel move as Rodríguez Araque reiterated the sale plan, the Attorney General’s Office declared a freeze on Stanford assets in Venezuela, as well as the bank accounts of the board of directors.
The measure was taken at the request of the State Prosecutors Office and in response to an investigation by the Banking Superintendent’s Office, Sudeban, officials said.
Ordering the freeze, a court in Caracas named the individuals affected by it as Gabriel Alberto Contreras Chacón, Francisco Paz Parra, Fernando Martínez Motola, Hugo Faría Bermúdez, Juan José García, Oscar Tazlhardat, Francisco Moccia and Ignacio Felice Sánchez.
All of them were also made subject to an order preventing them from leaving the country. This is not an unusual measure in cases of this kind in Venezuela.
Officials and banking sector spokesmen in Caracas have yet to put a figure either on how much money SBV was holding on behalf of customers in Venezuela, or how much it might have extended in loans and other forms of credit.
SBV had a minor banking presence in Venezuela, with unofficial estimates of its share of the local baking market variously put at around one percent, and perhaps less.
However, Venezuelans – wary as always of their country’s bank's financial instability in the past – are thought to have placed between $2.5 million and $3 million on deposit with Stanford outlets in Antigua, where the bank appears to have enjoyed close dealings with the authorities.