FORMER Stocks and Securities Limited (SSL) CEO Zachary Harding has stepped forward with a clear message meant for all and sundry: My hands are clean.
This comes after SSL has found itself at the centre of a massive fraud — thought to be the biggest in Jamaica’s history — that has shocked the nation and the world.
“I have nothing to hide. My heart is clear and my conscience is free,” Harding said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer on Saturday.
He also stated that during his two years and nine months (September 2019 – June 2022) at the helm of SSL he was never told that national icon Usain Bolt had an account with the company.
Attorneys representing the Olympian have indicated that in the order of US$12.7 million, or nearly $2 billion, has been fleeced from Bolt’s account. They have given the management of SSL until January 27 to pay over the stated sum or face legal action.
Bolt is among at least 30 people impacted by the still-unfolding fraud which is being investigated by the police Fraud Squad and the Financial Investigations Division.
“During my time as CEO at SSL, Usain Bolt’s name never came up as a customer of SSL. He was never mentioned in any management meeting, in any strategy meeting, in any client review meeting, [so] it’s not a case of, ‘How come the runner had so much money in there and it gets stolen and nobody ever saw it. ‘I was not aware of him having an account there, his name never came up; it never ever arose while I was there,” the former CEO emphasised.
Harding told the Sunday Observer that he knows Bolt socially [but] said “neither he nor his team ever contacted me. If there was some issue that was known to them or whatever, they could have easily contacted me, but nobody ever did”.
Harding disclosed that a member of Bolt’s management team informed him that former wealth advisor at SSL, Jean-Ann Panton, who has been implicated in the fraud, was the person at the investment company who managed Bolt’s account.
Two properties connected to Panton, who has reportedly given a statement indicating that she took money from clients’ accounts without their consent, were searched by the police and other investigators for several hours on Friday. The investigators said they seized documents and electronic devices from both properties.
A statement Panton reportedly gave to a justice of the peace in which she admitted to fleecing the accounts of several clients does not mention Bolt.
“My understanding is that he [Bolt] only ever dealt with one person with his account and that was Jean-Ann Panton,” Harding said. “So as to what Jean-Ann Panton could have been doing, or saying, or showing him, nobody would know except for her, because she was the only person that they dealt with.”
Harding questioned how Panton reportedly confessed (although not in a police statement) to falsifying documents, to defrauding clients etc, with specific amounts stated, yet there is no mention of Bolt in that confession.
“There’s a gap there as everybody wants to know where Usain’s money is and they saying Panton has now confessed, but the two don’t correlate.
“There has to be more questions asked because that is a glaring gap,” said Harding.
He told the Sunday Observer that he is “shocked and disappointed” at what is unfolding at SSL as he has been learning about it in the media like everybody else.
“For clarity, I resigned from SSL last year June so anything after that I am totally unaware of. I sit on no boards, I sit on no committees; I’m not a shareholder of SSL,” Harding stated.
“A lot of people have misconstrued and think that I am SSL and it is my company, and I still work there, or I have links there. I have nothing to do with SSL at all … zero. I don’t even have an account there,” he said.
Harding stressed that up until the time he left there were no internal investigations taking place to the best of his knowledge.
“There was nothing that pointed to any improprieties being carried out by any employees. This is all news to me,” he insisted.