Jamaica’s finance minister has announced that the government must cover the salary and expenses of the employees at an embattled investment firm marred by fraud, including stealing millions of dollars from Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt.
Speaking on Radio Jamaica’s Hotline on Friday, Sept. 1, Nigel Clarke revealed that the monthly compensation for Stocks and Securities Limited (SSL)’s staff totals about $15 million JMD, or roughly $97,000.
“I will provide more comprehensive details to the public once they become available. However, we’re talking about 22 staff members, with a monthly payroll of $9.5 million. Additionally, there are operating expenses of approximately $5 million, along with some one-time expenses,” Clarke reportedly said.
The announcement has sparked outrage among Jamaicans, with some questioning why taxpayers should be accountable for the debt tied to the fraud-plagued company.
“Them want the Jamaican people now to go back and pay this private company… mi want to know how long them going to take the Jamaican people for fool,” said Grammy-winning reggae artist Buju Banton in an Instagram video post on Monday, Sept. 4.
The repayment is required by law, according to Clarke.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness told reporters on Wednesday that the government is “not taking on any debt” and would not be “bailing out any private institutions that have failed,” but he added that in order to complete a thorough investigation into the fraud, investigators need SSL’s staff to “keep the computers running.”
Nearly seven months following the discovery of the scheme, the Financial Investigations Division has found that the number of impacted accounts is nearly twice the originally reported figure, resulting in a substantial increase in the magnitude of the fraud, amounting to millions more in US dollars.
The agency announced on Aug. 31 that there are about 70 affected accounts, a significant increase from the slightly over 40 accounts initially reported during the early stages of the investigation, which include Bolt’s fund. Investigations are currently underway into $20 million in fraud at SSL. The sum amounts to $3.1 billion JMD.
“The investigation is progressing with the application of the highest professional standards. It has taken on new dimensions which are wider than first expected,” Director General of the FID, Selvin Hay, said.
Meanwhile, Keith Darien, the principal director of investigations at the FID, said, “The extensive duration of the fraudulent activities and the range of fraudulent actions involved have contributed to the prolonged nature of the investigative process.”
Bolt reportedly lost about $12.7 million from his investment portfolio in the fraud scheme. Jean Forde, an 80-year-old investor, alleges that SSL stole $830,000 from her account.
Former client relationship manager Jean-Ann Panton has been charged in connection with the fraud after twice admitting to stealing money from customers to cover medical bills for ailing family members.
However, Darien also pointed out that more arrests are forthcoming.
“Before the upcoming court date, we anticipate the apprehension and charging of other individuals involved in the various fraudulent schemes that have recently come to light,” he said. “We are actively implementing deliberate measures to enhance the efficiency of our investigation.”
The finance minister, Clarke, said he couldn’t specify a timeline for the funding but assured that “it’s certainly not an open-ended commitment.”
The opposition People’s National Party demanded that Clarke disclose the full cost to taxpayers.
“Given that SSL is solvent, and it is highly unlikely that the government will recover these costs, the public has a right to know as it is our taxpayer funds that are footing the bill,” Jamaica’s opposition spokesman on finance, Julian Robinson, said on Friday.