Saturday, December 13, 2008

$50 billion and counting

From the NY Times:

According to an affidavit sworn out by federal agents, Mr. Madoff himself said the fraud had totaled approximately $50 billion, a figure that would dwarf any previous financial fraud.

At first, the figure seemed impossibly large. But as the reports of losses mounted on Friday, the $50 billion figure looked increasingly plausible. One hedge fund advisory firm alone, Fairfield Greenwich Group, said on Friday that its clients had invested $7.5 billion with Mr. Madoff...

Also likely to face very difficult questions are the hedge funds, investment advisers and banks that raised money for Mr. Madoff. At least some big investment advisers steered clients away from putting money with Mr. Madoff, believing the returns could not be real.

Robert Rosenkranz, principal of Acorn Partners, which helps wealthy clients choose money managers, said the steadiness of the returns that Mr. Madoff reported did not make sense, and the size of his auditor raised further concerns.

“Our due diligence, which got into both account statements of his customers, and the audited statements of Madoff Securities, which he filed with the S.E.C., made it seem highly likely that the account statements themselves were just pieces of paper that were generated in connection with some sort of fraudulent activity,” Mr. Rosenkranz said.

Simon Fludgate, head of operational due diligence for Aksia, another advisory firm that told clients not to invest with Mr. Madoff, said the secrecy of his strategy also raised red flags. And Mr. Madoff’s stock holdings, which he disclosed each quarter with the Securities and Exchange Commission, appeared to be too small to support the size of the fund he claimed. Mr. Madoff’s promoters sometimes tried to explain the discrepancy by explaining that he sold all his shares at the end of each quarter and put his holdings in cash.

“There were no smoking guns, but too many things that didn’t add up,” Mr. Fludgate said.

However, the S.E.C. had already investigated Mr. Madoff and two accountants who raised money for him in 1992, believing they might have found a Ponzi scheme. “We went into this thing just thinking it might be a huge catastrophe,” an S.E.C. official told The Wall Street Journal in December 1992.

Instead, Mr. Madoff turned out to have delivered the returns that the investment advisers had promised their clients. It is not clear whether the results of the 1992 inquiry discouraged the S.E.C. from examining Mr. Madoff again, even when new red flags surfaced. Lawyers at the S.E.C. did not return calls.

Meanwhile, Fairfield Greenwich Group, whose clients have $7.5 billion invested with the Madoff firm, said it was “shocked and appalled by this news.”

“We had no indication that we and many other firms and private investors were the victims of such a highly sophisticated, massive fraudulent scheme.”

At the court hearing, an individual investor, who declined to give his name to avoid embarrassment, expressed a similar sentiment.

“Nobody knows where their money is and whether it is protected,” the investor said.

“The returns were just amazing and we trusted this guy for decades — if you wanted to take money out, you always got your check in a few days. That’s why we were all so stunned.”

Here's Askia's letter explaining why it didn't invest with Madoff:

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