9 Jan 2009

Inquiry into Madoff business dealings in UK

8:28 am on 9 January 2009

American financier Bernard Madoff, accused of being responsible for one of the biggest financial frauds in history, is to face a further investigation in Britain.

The Serious Fraud Office says it will begin an inquiry into his business operations in the United Kingdom.

It will focus on UK victims and any offences that may have been committed in the UK, the SFO said.

Mr Madoff is accused of running a fraudulent $US50 billion scheme that wiped out many investors.

The SFO has called for anyone who has had dealings with any of Mr Madoff's UK businesses - including ex-employees - to assist in the investigation.

The swift action follows revelations before Christmas in the US about Mr Madoff's operations, as well as concerns from UK investors - some of whom fear they have lost several million pounds.

US prosecutors allege that a bogus business, run by the former Nasdaq stock market chairman, involved existing investors' returns being funded by cash from new investors - a fraud known as a Ponzi scheme.

The scandal has hurt a slew of banks, many in Europe. One, Austria's Bank Medici, is under government control as a consequence.

Among the first to admit potential losses was the Royal Bank of Scotland - 58% owned by the taxpayer - which said £400 million was at risk in hedge funds.

Spanish bank Santander, which owns Abbey and the savings business of Bradford & Bingley, has said its potential exposure is more than £2 billion.

Mr Madoff is currently under house arrest in his New York penthouse. His $US10 million bail is covered by that home as well as his houses in Long Island and Florida.

A parallel civil case has also seen his assets frozen.