Jamaican authorities have called on the FBI and other international law enforcement agencies for help unraveling the billion-dollar fraud scheme that robbed Olympic track star Usain Bolt of over $12 million of retirement investments.
The fraud claim is the biggest in the island nation’s history. Bolt and his attorneys have given the investment firm less than a week to recover his investments before taking legal action, but many of the Stocks and Securities Limited’s top executives who were at the helm while the massive decade-long theft allegedly occurred have come forward just to distance themselves from the financial calamity.
Former SSL CEOs Mark Croskery and Zachary Harding have publicly commented on the fraud discovery following Bolt’s threat to file a lawsuit.
In a statement Monday, Croskery said he was unaware of any fraud at the firm when he resigned five years ago but announced he is willing to fully cooperate with investigators in the probe. Harding told the Jamaica Observer that during the nearly three years of his tenure at SSL, he was never advised that Bolt was a client with investments in the company’s portfolios. Part of his role included ensuring the funds were kept safe.
“I have nothing to hide. My heart is clear and my conscience is free,” Harding said.
Initial reports showed the superstar athlete put about $10 million into the investment account in 2012, hoping to incur interest, but only $2,000 remained. However, his lawyers later released a statement stating the account had $12.7 million and was left with a balance of $12,000 as of Oct. 31.
Bolt’s legal team sent a letter to SSL on Jan. 16 demanding the firm return the money to the retired sprinter or face legal ramifications. The attorney stated if the balance is correct, “then a serious act of fraud larceny or a combination of both have been committed against our client.”
Reports show the fraud of nearly $2 billion (Jamaican) that impacted accounts for more than 20 to 30 people, businesses and government entities went under the radar for 13 years.
“The anger and unease we all feel have been magnified by the long duration — 13 years — over which the fraud was allegedly perpetrated, and the fact that the (suspects) seemed to have deliberately and heartlessly targeted elderly persons, as well as our much loved and respected national icon … Usain Bolt,” Jamaica Finance Minister Nigel Clarke said.
The island’s Financial Services Commission started investigating after authorities were made aware of the issue reported to Bolt during a December meeting updating the gold medalist about his portfolio. However, reports show that SSL was aware of the fraud since August.
An employee suspected of theft was reportedly fired, according to initial reports. However, the executive director of the Financial Services Commission, Everton McFarlane, resigned on Jan. 19, and the Bank of Jamaica’s chief prudential officer has stepped into the position.
While the former company leaders are not taking ownership for the mismanagement of the books, one of the company’s former employees confessed to swiping millions of dollars from the accounts, according to a sworn affidavit obtained by Nationwide News.
Jean-Ann Panton, an SSL employee for 25 years, told FSC and police in an affidavit signed on Jan. 7 that she stole around $900,000 to $1 million from SSL accounts. As a client relationship manager, Panton said she interacted with customers and assisted with their deposits and payments.
Panton said she started borrowing money from clients’ accounts in 2010 when her father was diagnosed with cancer. She needed the money to pay for his medical expenses, and when he died three years later, she took money from the accounts to cover his funeral expenses.
Panton said she had no way of repaying the money, but it was the only solution she saw at the time. Later, she stole funds to pay for her brother to be committed to a facility after he attempted to kill her mother, she said. Then she continued to steal money for various reasons amid financial hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although it is unclear if Panton dipped into Bolt’s portfolio, Harding told Jamaica Observer that she managed the track legend’s accounts.
“My understanding is that he [Bolt] only ever dealt with one person with his account and that was Jean-Ann Panton,” said Harding who resigned from the firm in June. “So as to what Jean-Ann Panton could have been doing, or saying, or showing him, nobody would know except for her, because she was the only person that they dealt with.”
Many Jamaicans have been outspoken about the alleged crime against the athlete who has won 11 gold medals and is considered one of the greatest sprinters of all time. However, some speculate that the investigation could be tainted by the influence of the social elite behind the investment firm.
“Uptown [people] them a thief long time [not just] today,” wrote one Instagram user, referring to upper-class Jamaicans who have more access to wealth and live in affluent areas, some of which are mostly white or mixed race.
Many Jamaicans are also concerned about the reputation damage the fraud scheme could cause the country.
“Uptown white-collar crime,” wrote one Instagram user, referring to a post mocking Panton. “Let’s hope when members of parliamentary look at tabling a bill to mitigate further catastrophe such as this happening again.”
However, Clarke has reassured Jamaicans that the incident has not impacted the country’s economic climate. He said the government will seize any assets that might have been bought with the alleged stolen funds and approve stiffer penalties for white-collar crimes.
“There is no need to panic,” he said. “Despite this most unfortunate development, Jamaica’s financial sector remains strong.”