By Camini Marajh
June, 2003:Texan tycoon R Allen Stanford has built a US$14 billion empire on a foundation of old money, business savvy and daredevil commercial ventures in the airline, real estate and financial services sectors.
He is the sole shareholder of 62 companies held under the wing of the signature Stanford Eagle Financial Group spanning seven countries. He is talented, driven, wields enormous power and likes to keep a low profile.
But his business dealings with the Antigua Government of Lester Bird have been getting him more attention than he had bargained for, fuelling reports of influence peddling and campaign contributions, among other things.
But the Texan billionaire, who attracted US State Department and Treasury scrutiny in the past, has dismissed the reports as political and false. He said there was a clear "misperception" to what he was doing in the Caribbean.
A fifth generation relative of the founder of Stanford University in California, the soft-spoken commercial tycoon is getting ready to pump US$2 billion worth of investment into the region through his newly-established, Stanford Caribbean Investment Fund, which is almost 100 per cent staffed and managed by a West Indian board of directors and project managers.
Stanford, the owner of Caribbean Star and its sister airline, Caribbean Sun, is putting US$100 million of his own money into his latest venture to kickstart stagnant island nation economies by, among other things, building vital infrastructure and world class resort facilities.
In an interview in St Kitts on Wednesday, at the inaugural flight of his latest airline venture, he told the Sunday Express of plans to raise US$900 million from investors on Wall Street, to borrow another US$700 million through conventional financing, and to secure US$300 million in non-cash government concessions via tax breaks on import charges and corporate taxes.
An Antiguan citizen since 1999, 53-year-old Stanford told of his love and commitment to the Caribbean, a region in which he has bought a stake and which he plans to put on a fast-track to First World status.
He speaks in a low tone, but his voice commands full attention when he spins vivid tales of a region being able to reach its full potential, of growth and development, and of the return of Caribbean sons and daughters to fresh opportunities in their respective island homes.
"I love this part of the world," he said, "I think it is a tremendous shame to see people who have to leave this part of the world because they don't have the opportunity for employment here that a London or New York or Miami or Houston or Toronto is going to give them."
Stanford's dream is to change not just the Caribbean landscape but the way people do business here. With his deep pockets and unrelenting drive, he just might do it.
He is close to completing another dream-an EC$750 million development just outside the V C Bird International Airport in Antigua.
The spanking new development sits on 60 acres of land and includes two banks with off-shore facilities, a Caribbean-style five-star hotel, a 3,500-seat cricket stadium which features a grandstand and terraced seating around the field, the Sticky Wicket Restaurant and Bar which features a cricket hall of fame, choice entertainment facilities, which includes a bowling alley, a twin-cinema, and a health spa with Olympic-size pool, and the Sun Publishing group which produces the Antigua Sun newspaper.
Stanford, who admits to being "incredibly blessed", has bought his own private island, Maiden-a tiny island just off Antigua, where he plans to build his permanent home. The flamboyant billionaire, who fitted in a spot of fishing on his private yacht between an extravagant and festive airline launch in St Kitts and his departure later that evening from Antigua on his private jet, said there were a lot of similarities between Texans and West Indians.
"I just call it being a maverick," he said, explaining, "that means that you don't always follow the flow. You go and do what you think is the right thing to do."
Stanford, whose personal assistant is West Indian-born, said Texans and West Indians take people for who they are.
"It's almost a kindred spirit is what I'd say."
Stating that he has not encountered that spirit anywhere else in his travels, he said: "I love the Caribbean. I love the people. I love the weather. I have a passion for this place. I was not born here but I was born here in spirit and, at this stage in my life, I can do just about anything I want to do within reason. I am talking of course anything legal and above board which is the only thing I am interested in being involved in."
Stanford says he wants to give back as much as he can to this place he calls his second home. And while he has chosen to put a substantial chunk of his money in the Caribbean, he has made clear his intention to get a 14 per cent return on his investment.
"Now that is the common sense truth," he said, adding, "but there is risk inherent in doing that and no one is doing it at this level. But I see the Caribbean as a greatly undervalued part of the world. I know what we can do down here. I want to stimulate the economy as a whole. I want to see the tourism product brought back to where I think it once was in the right direction headed. I want to see other industries come here."
Stanford has briefed most of the regional leaders, including Prime Minister Patrick Manning, of his plans for the region. He said he would derive great personal joy and fulfillment from knowing that he was able to change for the better the way people did things in a part of the world that he loves in a big way.
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