Frustration over SSL case could force interviews from Bolt that damage Jamaica’s reputation
TO PROTECT Jamaica’s image, sports legend Usain Bolt has kept largely quiet about his almost $2 billion allegedly missing from Stocks...
TO PROTECT Jamaica’s image, sports legend Usain Bolt has kept largely quiet about his almost $2 billion allegedly missing from Stocks & Securities Limited (SSL). But frustration over a lack of updates could force a change, his attorney Linton Gordon says.
“Ambassador Bolt has remained silent and has given time to the investigators, but it doesn’t mean that he’s not going to commence giving interviews, here and abroad, regarding his experience in this matter,” the attorney said, noting that his client is “extremely concerned” about general silence from officialdom.
He said while some things cannot be published, “surely even the assurance to the depositors and investors as to what is being done ... ought to be done”.
The 36-year-old retired star opened an account at SSL in the name of his holding company Welljen in 2012. The account’s value plummeted from $2 billion (US$12.7 million) in October 2022 to J$1.8 million or US$12,000 in January when the fraud was uncovered. He has not recovered any money, his legal team said.
Welljen was not among the 39 clients that former relationship manager Jean-Ann Panton confessed to defrauding on January 7. She is the only one charged in the case.
Bolt, the 100m and 200m world record holder, has turned down interviews with global media “in the interest of Jamaica land we love but it doesn’t mean we have surrendered to a nine-day idea”, his lead attorney insisted.
Gordon acknowledged that given Bolt’s international stature, any public utterance critical of local authorities could bring global scrutiny on Jamaica and its systems, which the Government admitted early in the case needs reform.
“It would have a devastating effect on the financial sector here in Jamaica. It would bring about a level of mistrust, suspicion and a belief that the Government is incapable of protecting depositors at financial institutions in Jamaica and this is precisely why, to his credit – he’s a nationalist, he’s committed to Jamaica, he has restrained himself from giving these interviews,” Gordon said.
In brief comments on January 27, athletic icon Bolt said “I will always love my country” and that while he was “not broke”, the case “has definitely put a damper on me. This was for my future. Everybody knows I have three kids. I’m still looking after my parents, and I still want to live very well.”
DAMAGING ON JAMAICA
One of Jamaica’s leading experts on business development, branding and marketing, said it would be ‘damaging’ for Jamaica if Bolt is forced to go public with his personal frustrations.
“It would be very detrimental to our ability to attract and retain the foreign investment that we know that the country has outlined as one of the main strategies for continued growth and development,” said the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The expert said: “In January Usain Bolt remained silent and yet a minimum of eight international media houses picked up a story in which he was not quoted as giving any comment. He didn’t give the story any legs. He was intentional and very kind to us. But if he were to now confirm that he is having difficulty in, not just recovering his money, but also getting the State to provide an update, (it could be) detrimental.”
Bolt’s lead attorney said his firm Frater Ennis & Gordon has reached out to SSL and the Ministry of Finance, but “they haven’t replied to letters we have written asking for information”.
“Now that the matter is under government control, let us know what you have found there. Don’t get into some wrangling where it excludes us from what is happening. You have taken control of the entity, where is the money? Rat never stole it; mongoose never run off with it’. Where is the money?” he enquired.
Gordon suggested that SSL clients have been left on their own with little assistance from the authorities.
“No meeting has been convened as far as we are aware, of the depositors and investors and an update given to them. They are left void of any supervision, any support or any guidance.”
The outcry from Bolt is also being welcomed by many SSL investors, many of whom are elderly who invested their pensions through SSL.
There are about 8,000 active accounts at SSL.
The Jamaica Stock Exchange terminated SSL’s dealer licence on February 24.
“It’s unfortunate that the Government has not been more transparent in how it has been engaging the SSL client base. Remember we took control of SSL so we have a duty to keep people informed and help them with next steps,” said a finance ministry source.
Government regulator for the securities industry, the Financial Services Commission (FSC), said it has been responding to complaints received from clients.
“We have been tracking these complaints. I don’t know about the resolution of them at this point in time but we acknowledge them as they come in [and] we try to give a timely update,” said David Geddes, director stakeholder engagement, communication and international relations.
He said the watchdog has also been focusing on addressing legal issues that have emerge since the SSL informed of the fraud on January 10.
On the concerns about the absence of general update with SSL clients, he said “as soon as we resolve [the legal issues] then we can proceed to see about the feasibility of a town hall-type meeting which would involve technology”.
On May 24, when asked for an update, Finance Minister Nigel Clarke said the policy directive remains unchanged – leave no stone unturned; pursue this wherever it leads and get international help.
And a day later, Selvin Hay, chief technical director and head of the Financial Investigations Division (FID), said the investigation was “progressing”. He declined to outline any significant movement in the case since Panton was charged in February.
Jamaica had asked the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist with the probe.
The FSC took temporary management of SSL on January 17 and has since declared in court documents that the 50-year-old company is insolvent. It is seeking to be vested with powers to control SSL and to install its own trustee who would be responsible for leading a claims validation process with clients, among other things.
SSL’s attempt to put in place its own trustee on January 16 was halted after the FSC obtained a court injunction barring the company or the trustee from doing anything with the assets. A court hearing on the validity of SSL’s move is scheduled for July.
Bolt and another client, Jean Forde, have filed separate lawsuits against SSL, though the two cases are being heard together.