Finance minister promises no stone will be left unturned in SSL probe
MCFARLANE... resigned Thursday as executive director of the FSC (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

FINANCE Minister Dr Nigel Clarke has promised full transparency into the issues which led to fraud at Stocks and Securities Limited (SSL), including the role and decisions of the Financial Services Commission (FSC) in dealing with the matter.

Clarke gave the assurance in a statement late Thursday evening, hours after he announced that the executive director of the FSC, Everton McFarlane, had resigned from the post, one day after facing the press about the multi-billion-ollar fraud at SSL, which is yet to be fully quantified.

"There will be full transparency. No stone will be left unturned in unearthing exactly how funds were allegedly stolen, who benefited from such theft, and who organised and collaborated in this," Clarke said in his statement.

"The probe will also seek to identify whether assets have been acquired with the proceeds of this fraud. If and when such assets are identified, all legal steps will be taken to restrain these assets with the intention of full forfeiture," the finance minister said.

He added in the statement that preliminary updates show a number of elderly investors are among those defrauded in the SSL matter.

"On behalf of the Government of Jamaica we empathise with all investors who have been impacted by this, and particularly those of advanced age, who sometime in the past ended their working life."

And emphasising his point that no stone will be left unturned in the investigations, Clarke affirmed, "I wish to assure all Jamaicans that the investigative authorities such as the Financial Investigations Division (FID) and the Fraud Squad have operational independence to pursue this investigation, wherever it may lead."

He said though he understands the legitimate public interest in being kept abreast, it "sometimes conflicts with another critically important and legitimate public interest of ensuring a thorough criminal investigation and securing successful prosecutions. Where those conflicts arise we will be transparent about that too and will have to prioritise ensuring successful investigations and prosecutions by the relevant authorities".

He also called for the public to be patient, even amidst the need to have the investigations done in a speedy manner, as he highlighted that complexities will arise from the very long period over which this alleged fraud was perpetrated.

The alleged perpetrator of the fraud said it started as far back as 2010. It involved billions of dollars from an unknown number of accounts.

Jamaican Olympic legend Usain Bolt has been reported among some 30 individuals who have suffered losses.

The FSC in its own review of SSL raised issues about the company's management first in a 2017 report in which it flagged the entity as a "problem institution" with "a culture of non-compliance in mismanagement of clients' funds", but appeared to take little action or gave them too much leeway to correct the problems they were having.

"The directors and managers of SSL will have to account for their stewardship," Clarke added.

"The public should be assured that there will also be full transparency around the FSC and its role and decisions in due course. There are many questions to be answered such as the time period between becoming aware of this fraud and informing the regulatory and investigative authorities and the actions taken in the interim."

The finance minister said a lot of speculation on social media is inaccurate and some extreme comments seem fuelled by perverse motives.

Clarke earlier Thursday announced that the executive director of the FSC had resigned during a ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade in downtown Kingston.

"Today I accepted the resignation of the executive director of the Financial Services Commission, effective 31 January. He will proceed on leave tomorrow," Clarke said.

Staff at the FSC were informed of the development on Thursday afternoon.

"We will have a secondment from the Bank of Jamaica in the form of Mr Kerron Burrell, who is the chief prudential officer of the Bank of Jamaica and is in charge of the prudential supervision of all deposit-taking institutions. He will be seconded to the FSC until further notice. I would ask that having informed you of that, I will have more to say when I provide a policy address on this matter on Monday," said Clarke.

The Jamaica Observer was told that Burrell would start acting in the role "after close of business tomorrow [today]." It is not clear how long Burrell will act in the role.

McFarlane who has been in the role since August 2, 2017, assumed the role after a short stint as the financial secretary, Ministry of Finance.

Dashan Hendricks

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