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British fraud office eyes possible Stanford link

world Updated: Feb 19, 2009 21:30 IST
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Britain's Serious Fraud Office is monitoring a possible link from the scandal surrounding Texas billionaire Allen Stanford after media reports that his firm was audited from the United Kingdom.

Antigua-based accounting firm C.A.S. Hewlett, which the Evening Standard reported had audited Stanford's books, moved its operations to London after its founder Charlesworth 'Shelley' Hewlett died last month, newspapers said.

"It's a situation where there is the possibility there may be a UK link and so we are monitoring the situation," a spokesman for the SFO said.

"It's not the case that we have launched investigators at it. We are making contact and liaising with other authorities," the spokesman also said.

C.A.S. Hewlett has offices in a number of London addresses, but the numbers were either disconnected, or rang out.

Two people with neighbouring businesses in Enfield, a residential suburb north of London, told Reuters that C.A.S. Hewlett had let a small office in the building on Southbury Road, but that the employees left some four years ago.

One of the two said that about once a month she saw a handful of "middle-aged people" going to and from the Hewlett offices, but could offer no further details.

The SEC this week charged Stanford -- who is also a high-profile cricket promoter -- with an $8 billion fraud, causing long queues of angry depositors in several countries.

The SEC said in its court complaint it tried several times to contact C.A.S. Hewlett during its investigation, but that "no one ever answered the phone". In Europe, the case has not yet caused the same shockwaves as the $50 billion Bernard Madoff scandal, although former Swiss President Adolf Ogi on Wednesday stepped down from the adivsory board of Stanford Financial Group.

Hewlett's daughter Celia had taken on the responsibilities of the accounting firm from London after her father died last month, the Evening Standard reported on its website on Wednesday.

"We have read that there is a possibility that some of the auditing operations were handled here in the UK, but it would be wrong to say that we have served any notices or searched any premises," the SFO said.

The scandal is an embarrassment for the normally tranquil world of British cricket, and has made it unlikely that the Stanford-sponsored Twenty20 tournament at the spiritual home of the game, Lord's Cricket Ground, will still happen.

But globally, investors from the Caribbean island of Antigua to Andean nations Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador besieged Stanford's banks and companies to try to redeem funds, or seek information about their savings.