Former Jamaican and global sprinting legend Usain Bolt must be rueing his decision to invest more than $12 million of his retirement funds in a local investment firm that is now reporting that all but $12,000 of it has been stolen in a massive fraud scheme at the company that authorities uncovered earlier this month.

The fraud at the Stocks and Securities Limited (SSL) has shaken the Jamaican financial sector to its core and forced Prime Minister Andrew Holness, the central bank, the bankers’ association and related institutions to hurriedly issue words of assurances to prevent a run on investment companies that could severely weaken the sector.

Word of the disappearance of more than $12 million of Bolt’s money first surfaced at the turn of this year and has left many wondering why the sprinting icon chose SSL, given its checkered past, serious problems with transparency and previous brushes with theft of investors’ money. Authorities say that up to 40 investors have been defrauded of at least $25 million, many of them elderly or recently retired like Bolt.

Embarrassed by the situation, Holness addressed the nation on the issue late last week, saying that he was “upset and disgusted” at the scandal.

“There is a dimension of a heightened public sense of betrayal, which 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 as he promised a full investigation. “The government will ensure that the laws and systems in place work for the benefit of the general public good, accountability for those responsible and justice for those negatively affected. 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.”

Last week, local police raided the upscale city home of a former SSL employee who is being regarded as the main person who had “borrowed funds” from the accounts of clients without their consent. Bolt appears to be a main victim in this regard.

The alleged fraud at SSL has now triggered a review of the company’s track record over the years, with many former board members and senior executives saying SSL’s license should have been suspended long ago because of several instances of basic rule breaches.

The Gleaner newspaper reported over the weekend that a financial services commission report back in 2017 had threatened to recommend the suspension of SSL’s license because of “a range of breaches and other problems.” One of the reports had described SSL as being “a problem institution with a culture of non-compliance and mismanagement of client funds” for years.

Investors like Bolt—at least 40 of them—still continued to have the company invest their money, hoping brokers would multiply their investments to their satisfaction. 

Bolt and his lawyers have given authorities until late this week to return his investment in full—they are blaming lax oversight by regulators for his plight and that of others. Speculation is already rife that the government and the local private sector may have to chip in and financially assist Bolt if the money cannot be recovered, at least in the short term.

Even more astonishing are comments from several former executives at SSL who have said that they were unaware that Bolt had even been a company client because nothing about him or his accounts had ever been mentioned at meetings or appeared in any official documents.

Government also said that there had been indications of malfeasance dating back to 2010 and still no serious action had been taken and SSL was still allowed to operate.“There were several red flags before, which were known and documented. I came in and I met with the financial services commission, apprised myself of what the issues were before I got there, and set up a committee specifically focused on repairing those irregularities,” the Observer newspaper quoted former SSL CEO Zac Harding. “Everybody worked very hard because the company was at risk of losing its license. Everybody was involved and there was a project committee that was set up just to deal with the issues that were identified by the commission. 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,” Harding said.

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