Authorities in Trinidad are preparing to launch a criminal probe into the 2009 collapse of the English-speaking Caribbean’s largest single company to determine why the conglomerate went belly up and who were the main beneficiaries of the hundreds of millions of private investor funds that were either stolen or spectacularly mismanaged.

Caribbean Life Insurance Company (CLICO), which had branches stretching from the Bahamas in the north Caribbean to Guyana and Suriname on the South American mainland, collapsed in January 2009, leaving hundreds of thousands of investors in the lurch, including many Caribbean nationals who had their life savings and pension funds in its high-dividend premium schemes.

But even as many policyholders have written off their investments as a bad chapter in their lives, the issue is raising its head again in CLICO’s Trinidad headquarters, where pressure has been mounting for months to determine what exactly had happened. The planned investigation is being undertaken in spite of the fact that the administration of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bisessar is convening a separate commission of inquiry into what many consider to be a scandal of Bernie Madoff-like proportions in the Caribbean. At the same time, some governments are trying to either repay investors from state and other funds or are simply winding up company branches altogether.

Earlier this month, Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard announced plans for the criminal probe to go along with a similar investigation of the embarrassing collapse of the once-very prosperous Hindu Credit Union (HCH), also in Trinidad. Thousands of investors had also lost large sums of money and life savings.

CLICO had been the umbrella agency for 65 companies in 32 countries, including the U.S., where it had invested millions in the now very soft Florida real estate market that eventually led to the firm’s collapse. The companies had included forays into timber concessions, ethanol and rum production, the insurance sector, housing and a security firm, among others.

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan had recently told the island’s Senate that government had spent about $80 million in both bailing out the company before its eventual collapse and in legal fees, hiring attorneys and other experts to trace various sums of money executives had withdrawn from bank accounts for a plethora of dubious schemes, including high rises and condominiums in South Florida.

“The fall was quite possibly the biggest financial collapse of a financial institution in the country,” Ramlogan said, adding that CLICO was a financial empire that dominated the social economic environment and had tentacles in almost every sector of the economy.

Said Ramlogan, “The government is committed to the pursuit of justice on behalf of the people of both the CLICO and the HCU matters and is therefore committed to providing the necessary resources to the police service and prosecutors to facilitate this investigation.”