Saturday, March 31, 2012

*Sigh* No Forest

In a move that should surprise no one, Canadian/Chinese forestry company Sino-Forest filed for bankruptcy in Canada yesterday. The timing of the filing shouldn't be a surprise either, since the company was due to deliver its 2011 audited financial statements and also unsurprisingly couldn't find an auditing firm willing to sign off on them.

Thus, the saga which began ten months ago when short-seller/analyst Carson Block put out a report stating that the company was a fraud, is winding down.

In the interim, we've seen a famed hedge fund manager (John Paulson) humbled, a kiwi billionaire (Richard Chandler) lose a $100 million+ bet and a committee of Sino-Forest's own directors spend $50 million to investigate itself, concluding in a nutshell that the trees exist, but they're not sure if the company owns them in any way.

We've also seen a criminal probe by the Canadian authorities, which is likely to end in the conviction of no-one.

Lawsuits abound, including class-actions against the company (good luck with that), the former auditors (Ernst&Young), directors and executives. Not to be outdone, Sino-Forest is suing Mr. Block for $4 billion  dollars. As one internet poster put it "That will teach him to expose fraud".

The lesson here, children, is not that fraud doesn't pay, It's that you have to do it right.

Be sure to set up in impenetrable and incompatible jurisdictions. When you're exposed, deny, deny and then deny some more. Countersue your accusers and/or the authorities. Pay yourself millions to investigate yourself, giving time to put your person and your assets well out of reach of those greedy lawyers and their needy victim clients. Blame your boss or your subordinates.

Remember, the truth will not set your free. The opposite is much, much, more likely. /sarcasm

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Stanford Bowled Out

It was three years in the making, but this morning in Houston a jury found Robert Allen Stanford guilty of 13 charges of conspiracy, obstruction and fraud, stemming from the operation of Antigua-based Stanford International Bank.

For a while there, I was wondering if "Sir Allen" was going to weasel his way out of this one, the same way his scam escaped detection for over two decades: hiding behind lawyers and other highly compensated professionals. Just yesterday, it had been announced that the jury was split on some issues. Apparently, that was only splitting hairs. Like many, I followed the trial on twitter (great job by the Houston Chronicle and KUHT...still going on at #stanfordtrial). Some the defenses expert witnesses' declarations were to put it mildly:  "far away from conventional wisdom". It's amazing what a few hundred thousand dollars in professional fees can do to your technical knowledge base.

Luckily, the jury didn't pull an OJ, and took the evidence for what it was worth.
On the side of the prosecution they showed detailed confession by a co-conspirator plus a money trail backed by documental evidence. Stuff that you just can't make up.

On the side of the defense, a two pronged alternate theory: that CFO James Davis worked alone or that there wasn't really a fraud. They brought in experts to state that taking out $2 billion in loans from your own bank (fraud), not disclosing the fact (fraud squared) and flatly denying any loans to anyone (fraud cubed) was all Ok. What's more, everything would be made right again when the pieces of the Stanford empire were put together in a "consolidation" plan. As if consolidating several piles of crap would yield something other than a larger pile of crap.
They didn't address the shortfall in investment returns, which was what gave the whole scheme away ultimately. Anyway, the jury didn't buy it. Unfortunately, we taxpayers will still have to pay for those experts' "work".

Naturally, this is not the end of the Stanford saga. There are still the criminal trials of the Chief Investment Officer (Pendergest-Holt), the accountants (Lopez and Kuhnt) and the Antiguan regulator (King), in addition to the certain appeals for Stanford and perhaps others. It does seem that if there were others in on the scheme, they mostly likely will get away.

For those who were caught in this web and lost their money, the journey towards closure is far from over. A trial currently taking place pitting the SEC vs. the SIPC, may give relief to some or perhaps yield just another disappointment. In the meantime, the process of asset recovery in Antigua and the US, has been so far fruitful only to the legal scavengers, for whom time is money and delay is profit. For now, investors have only received frustration.

So Stanford now joins Madoff, Rothstein, Nadel, Pearlman and many others in the Ponzi Hall of Convicted Felons.

He did manage to beat one of the wire fraud charges, the one relating to the purchase of Super Bowl tickets for Antiguan Regulator Leroy King in 2006. That botched my plans for a blog title reading "Stanford Bowled for a Duck".

Cricket fans would get it.