FTI GLOBAL INSIGHTS
In our latest issue of the FTI Consulting Global Insights
Asia Report, Michelle Menrath provides a thought
provoking review of some of the specific questions and
warning signs investors should remember when
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Hong Kong telephone +852.3768.4688 [email protected]
Although investors must always show great care when selecting a new opportunity, it is even more critical that
in times of great market volatility, they carry out due
diligence to reveal what is really going on behind the scenes. As she explains, if a deal sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Specifically, Michelle discusses the Ponzi scheme. One of our most complex ongoing assignments involves the largest reported Ponzi scheme in U.S. history, the one against Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities. FTI Consulting was retained to provide global investigative fact gathering, forensic accounting, complex financial and enterprise data analytics, and electronic discovery and expert services.
Michelle is a director in our Hong Kong office, and she draws on more than a decade of experience in corporate advisory, corporate recovery and restructuring. For more information, please contact myself or any of our FTI Consulting staff.
Unravelling Ponzi Schemes
+852.3768.4621 [email protected]
About FTI Consulting, Inc. FTI Consulting, Inc. is a global business advisory firm dedicated to helping organisations protect and enhance enterprise value in an increasingly complex legal, regulatory and economic environment. FTI Consulting professionals, who are located in all major business centers throughout the world, work closely with clients to anticipate, illuminate and overcome complex business challenges in areas such as investigations, litigation, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory issues, reputation management and restructuring. More information can be found at www.fticonsulting.com. 2012 FTI Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.
FTI GLOBAL INSIGHTS
Most investors will not be aware that they are
participating in a Ponzi scheme but will be driven
Unless you've been hiding in a South American
by high returns. Some investors, however, are
jungle, you would likely have heard of Bernie
aware but make a conscious decision to invest,
Madoff, the United States fraudster touted as
believing the rewards for investing are sufficient
being single-handedly responsible for the fall of
to justify the risk; the high returns are incentive
enough. This may be so in circumstances where
identities, highlighting the ineffectiveness of
investors believe there are enough other
financial regulatory intervention, and bringing
investors continuing to join, and who continue to
about financial regulatory reform in the United
bring "new money", or where government
The Madoff scandal shocked the Western World,
stressing the international financial community by
There have almost certainly been fraudsters and
highlighting the vulnerabilities of individuals and
schemers since humans began trading with one
deficiencies of regulators; we are not as immune
another. However, the term "Ponzi scheme" did
not exist until the 1920's, when Charles Ponzi, an Italian fraudster living in the United States,
What is a Ponzi Scheme
operated a postal coupon scheme so large that
The United States Securities and Exchange
the world took notice. Ponzi sold his scheme to
Commission ("U.S. SEC") describes a Ponzi
friends, offering remarkable returns (100% after
scheme as "an investment fraud that involves the
90 days), advising them he was trading in postal
payment of purported returns to existing investors
International Reply Coupons ("IRC") to take
from funds contributed by new investors . the
advantage of foreign exchange differences, and
fraudsters focus on attracting new money to
that in doing so, he was able to offer such
investors and to use for personal expenses, instead of engaging in any legitimate investment
Upon hearing of the incredible returns that his
friends had received from a newspaper article, investors from all over the United States flocked
A Ponzi scheme typically offers investors strong
to give Ponzi their money. Charles Ponzi lived
returns (often guaranteeing them) which are
luxuriously for a time, but eventually he was
unsustainable over time, and it literally banks on
convicted of fraud and sent to prison when a
the concept of "robbing Peter to pay Paul".
financial analyst, Clarence Barron, calculated that
Investors attracted by promises of high profits are
160 million IRCs would need to be in circulation
paid with money from an ever-increasing pool of
at the time to generate sufficient funds for Ponzi's
new investors. Without new investors or a
scheme; in fact, there were only 27,000 in
legitimate investment activity producing profits,
the Ponzi scheme ultimately runs out of cash, leading to its downfall.
Notable Ponzi Schemes
Almost a century after the exploits of Charles
Faced with such a scenario, the fraudster (often
Ponzi, investors around the world continue to fall
termed "the promoter") will prohibit or seek to
victim to similar schemes. Ponzi schemes in one
frustrate the withdrawal of funds by investors.
form or another now operate across the globe
This can usually be achieved by offering new
under innumerable guises, in some instances
plans to existing investors at even higher returns,
making them very difficult to distinguish from
but usually these come with longer terms.
genuine investments. Schemers regularly exploit
Eventually, the Ponzi implodes or collapses, the
community concerns, such as the environment,
authorities are called in to investigate and the
by disguising Ponzi schemes and persuading
promoter is either jailed or vanishes with any
investors to participate in a "good cause".
Schemers have also been known to promote themselves as government-backed
So what drives people to invest in Ponzi
"cooperatives" in poor and developing
schemes? Typically, it's greed. But, as the saying
populations: parties in Albania attracted an
goes, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
FTI GLOBAL INSIGHTS
government television and political campaigners
1. Political connections of the promoter:
actively promoting and endorsing the schemes.
reduces the likelihood that a regulator will
The rich and famous are not immune either; links
terminate the scheme. Ideally, the promoter has
have been made to A-list celebrities and "fat cat"
an intimate involvement in the class ruling (think
investors via Scientology minister, Reed Slatkin,
2. Inexpensive access to citizens through
The most widely publicised and one of the more
The internet is a good example of
recent Ponzi schemes is the estimated US$50
billion fraud perpetrated by Bernie Madoff, through his asset management company Madoff
Investment Securities, often quoted as being the
b. It rallies participants when the scheme fails.
largest financial investor fraud in history. Madoff began nearly 20 years ago and after confessing
3. Ambiguous laws governing the transfer of
to his sons in December 2008 (who subsequently
Participants may organise to
turned him over to the authorities), was
use state assets for a bailout when the scheme
sentenced 150 years in prison in June 2009.
Madoff's case was significant not only because of
4. A large public sector:
Only a large public
the size of the fraud, but also because of the
sector has the sufficient resources from which to
position Madoff held, having formerly acted as a
non-executive director of the NASDAQ Stock Exchange. Unease regarding Madoff's business
One of the more notable Ponzi schemes in Asia
had surfaced almost 10 years earlier, when a
involved the Yilishen Tianxi Group, which sold
number of parties expressed concerns to the
ants to investors who in turn bred the ants and
U.S. SEC, the entity charged with the task of
subsequently sold them back to the Group to be
supervising financial markets and products. It is
used in the production of traditional Chinese
medicine (which included a version of Viagra).
investigators considered Madoff somewhat above
The scheme reportedly offered returns of
reproach, and accordingly failed to properly
between 30 to 60 percent, and was seen as
being endorsed by the Chinese government. In time, the company failed and it was alleged that
The Madoff scandal demonstrates the apparent
the promoter was using investor money to pay
credibility that some of these fraudsters display; a
himself and corrupt government officials. This
prominent feature in "successful" schemes. As do
bizarre story concludes in an appropriately
the countless other politicians, financial advisors
bizarre manner, with the promoter being arrested,
and lawyers that have had a known involvement
not for fraud, but for initiating a riot of disgruntled
in Ponzi schemes. Take the example of Russian
politician, Sergei Mavrodi, whose Ponzi scheme collapsed in 1994. Having first recruited between
So, then comes the question: how do you protect
5 and 15 million investors through an aggressive
a community from one of these schemers? The
television advertising campaign, the Ponzi
answer includes government intervention and
collapsed and approximately 2 million investors
regulation; and through self regulation in
lost an estimated US$1.5 billion. Rather than
performing the necessary due diligence and
blame Mavrodi however, his investors elected
investigation to identify a Ponzi scheme.
him to government on his promise of a government bailout!
Government Regulation and Reform
Immediately following the Madoff scandal, the
The Story in Asia
U.S. SEC introduced "Post-Madoff reforms" as a
Of course, Asia is not immune to Ponzi schemes
result of the scandal. These reforms included
either. Indeed, many Asian countries have key
improving risk assessment capabilities, improving
political and economic conditions which support
internal controls, revamping the handling of
complaints and tips, and proposing measures to enhance safeguards for investors' assets. Similar
FTI GLOBAL INSIGHTS
reforms can be seen in the government offices of
- Do the returns generally correlate with overall equity markets over time?
Only time will tell whether these and similar
- Are the investment decisions being made by
reforms will be successful or not, but as some of
us know only too well in Asia, for the determined
- Is there independent third-party evidence to
promoter there will always be ways to circumvent
the regulations, perhaps by either simply not registering the scheme or through more
underhand methods, such as corruption. So despite its best efforts, if a government regulator
- Are the investments labelled "100%" safe?
is failing to effectively perform its duties, as seen
- Are the returns offered to "special customers"?
in the Madoff case, or if the schemer is simply too
investments falls directly on our shoulders and
- Are the investments placed entirely through one
key party? - Do the promoters refuse to disclose anything?
So, how do you identify a latent Ponzi scheme
- Is there co-mingling of investor funds?
- Are there two sets of records? - Are the operations very secretive or complex?
Self Regulation and Recognizing Ponzi
- Have the operations been scrutinized by any
Following the Madoff scandal, the U.S. SEC,
- Have authorities investigated known associates
Office of Investigations prepared a report into its
failure to detect the Madoff fraud. This report was
- Are investors having difficulty receiving money?
labelled "Investigation of Failure of the SEC to Uncover Bernard Madoff's Ponzi Scheme," and it
was dated 31 August 2009. A review of this
U.S. President Barack Obama said, "A free
report identifies the following red flags for
market was never meant to be a free licence to
take whatever you can get, however you can get it." The Madoff scandal was an example of a
The Red Flags
government's inability to detect Ponzi schemes early enough to appropriately protect investors.
Therefore, the task of doing so directly falls on
- Are the returns volatile or unusually consistent?
the investor. As with any investment, whether it
- Are the returns high, consistent and over a
be of property investments in China, resources in
Kazakhstan, manufacturing in Cambodia, retail in
Malaysia and, of course, financial schemes
- What is the trading strategy employed?
anywhere in Asia, due diligence is critical.
- Are the returns achievable given this strategy? - Are the volumes represented to have been
For more information about our corporate
advisory, corporate recovery and restructuring
- How does the party physically conduct trades?
services, as well as FTI Consulting, please
- Are the trades in sufficient volumes to do so on
an exchange? - Are they traded over-the-counter?
- Is it conceivable that a counterparty to the trade could be found? - Would trades of the underlying stocks in the volumes purported noticeably affect the market? - Are the returns achieved considered too high, too consistent for too long given the strategy employed? - Do other traders yield similar results when the volumes and strategies employed are
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P h a s e I I E v a l u a t i o n o f T e m o z o l o m i d e a n d 1 3 - c i s - R e t i n o i c A c i d f o r t h e T r e a t m e n t o f R e c u r r e n t a n d P r o g r e s s i v e M a l i g n a n t G l i o m a : A N o r t h A m e r i c a n B r a i n T u m o r C o n s o r t i u m S t u d y By Kurt A. Jaeckle, Kenneth R. Hess, W.K. Alfred Yung, Harry Greenberg, Howard Fine, David Schi