The investigation into the multi-billion-dollar fraud at Stocks and Securities Limited (SSL) gathered steam on Friday as police searched two premises in the Corporate Area that they say are connected to suspect Jean-Ann Panton and seized documents as well as electronic devices.
At the same time, Prime Minister Andrew Holness assured the country that a thorough probe is being conducted to identify “the perpetrators and colluders involved in the fraudulent activity and bring them to justice, as well as to trace the funds and secure forfeiture of assets acquired with stolen funds”.
Holness, in his first public statement on the matter which exploded last week, said, “The affected investors and the public can be assured that the investigative and prosecutorial agencies have the necessary competencies and resources and have already started to act decisively to gather information and evidence.”
He added that “no effort will be spared in uncovering the full extent of fraudulent activity and in bringing the perpetrators to justice”.
Holness said that he was “thoroughly disgusted and upset by revelations in the public domain surrounding this matter”, adding that he was “very concerned and sympathetic to all those hard-working Jamaicans who, at this moment, are uncertain of the status of funds they have invested with the institution in question”.
Referring to the fact that sprint legend Usain Bolt is among the people whose accounts have been raided, Holness said that “while every investor’s distress must be equally acknowledged, there is a dimension of a heightened public sense of betrayal, that I share, that a national icon who has brought so much pride to all of us is also a victim of the alleged fraud”.
He said that while the matter has sparked immediate fear and general concern, “there is absolutely no need for panic about the strength and soundness of the financial system as a whole”.
According to the prime minister, significant reforms implemented over the last two decades have resulted in “a strong and vibrant financial system in which the public can have confidence”. That system, he said, “is recognised as the leading financial market in the region and a source of competitive advantage” for Jamaica.
“The public can rest assured that the Government will be proactive in ensuring that there is accountability and probity in the exercise of public functions and that our policy and administrative response is effective in continually strengthening the financial sector and protecting the investing public,” he said.
Earlier, the Financial Investigations Division (FID) said that the documents and devices seized at the two properties in Millsborough and Havendale will be thoroughly analysed with a view to proffer charges subsequent to the investigations.
Panton, who was seen using a walker and a wheelchair to move around, was present during the searches and was accompanied by her attorney.
According to Senior Superintendent of Police Stephanie Lindsay, who is in charge of the constabulary’s Corporate Communications Unit, the suspect has not yet been arrested and charged because investigators are building their case.
Lindsay also told journalists that the woman, who is allowed to go about her normal day-to-day business, is not considered a flight risk.
“The investigation is like a puzzle. As you look at one piece another piece takes you to another location. From my discussion it is likely there will be other searches relative to this investigation. What I can tell you is that she was in a wheelchair during the search, but I can’t speak to her health. As far as we know, this is her home,” Lindsay said.
“She was not arrested, but as it relates to charges, that will be determined by FID and the Fraud Squad and will also be determined by the evidence they uncover in this search and other parts of the investigation. It is a large investigation. This is just one part. There are other parts, and at the end of the day they are trying to get as much evidence as possible to see how they proceed next,” Lindsay said.
“The investigators are in possession of a sworn statement that was provided by her. I can’t divulge too much information. Arrest and charge is based on evidence. It is a very high-level investigation with a set of competent investigators. In an investigation like this you want to make sure that you have all the evidence you need. They are not going to rush into any part of the process… you are going to ensure that you have all the evidence to put before the court. I didn’t get from the investigators whether other suspects are on the radar,” Lindsay said, adding that Panton has been cooperating with the police.
“The search was supervised by her attorney and she was also present to observe what was happening. Everything was done in clear view of her and her attorney. After the information is analysed, then you will know the next step,” Lindsay said.