Businessman Zachary Harding has said that during his tenure as CEO of Stocks and Securities Limited (SSL) between September 2019 and June 2022, it was never revealed to him that sprint legend Usain Bolt, or any company affiliated with him, was a client of the entity.
Harding, who, in a release on the weekend, distanced himself from the US multi-million dollar fraud, said he “only learnt of Bolt being a client of SSL when the news broke in the media”.
Last Tuesday, Bolt’s legal team issued SSL with a 10-day ultimatum to return his missing money – in excess of US$12 million (J$1.8 billion) – or face legal action. The retired sprinter’s account at SSL now reportedly contains only US$12,000.
According to Harding, “At no time at all did his (Bolt) or any company he may have been affiliated with ever come up as being a client of SSL while I was there.”
The former SSL CEO said another employee at the investment firm who served in various capacities, including that of CEO before his tenure, “was also not aware” of Bolt being a client of SSL.
“Additionally, none of the senior management team that I led was working at SSL when Bolt’s account was initially opened,” Harding stated.
“It was also recently disclosed from a reliable source that his team only dealt with one person at SSL and that was Jean Ann Panton,” he added.
While investigations are ongoing into the reported massive fraud at SSL, law enforcers and operatives of the Financial Investigations Division (FID) descended on the apartment of Panton last Friday.
Panton is a former SSL employee who admitted to private investigators that she swindled large amounts of funds from the accounts of over 30 persons at the firm.
The statement with her detailed outline was circulated on social media and has left the woman’s attorney, Tamika Harris, livid.
Bolt was not among the individuals who were named by Panton in her statement to private investigators, who were allegedly contracted by SSL.
In his statement, too, Harding also lambasted those on social media making unfounded accusations about him relative to the ongoing fraud probe.
“While I completely understand that the nation wants to get answers, the erroneous posts and rampant accusations made by certain social media personalities and accounts, and the comments made by some of their followers, have only helped to distract from the real question, which is – What really happened to Bolt’s money?” the businessman suggested.
On developments under his stewardship of SSL, Harding said he took his role there “seriously”.
He added: “My chief mandate was to lead the senior management team, report to the board, represent the interests of its shareholders, and fix some of the well-known issues that had plagued the organisation for several years while charting a course forward for the business.”
It was reported that the Financial Services Commission (SSL) had flagged SSL as a “problem” entity several years earlier over its questionable business practices.
When quizzed on its oversight of the institution last Wednesday, then FSC Executive Director Everton McFarlane, who subsequently resigned a day later, said: “We are aware that there are a number of questions that are of public concern.”
“Questions, for instance, relating to the FSC’s past actions, what we knew, when we knew and what we did. Our ability to answer such questions at this time is constrained.”
The amount of money allegedly defrauded is not known to date as the FID and other law enforcement agencies probe the developments at SSL.
But Harding said he was never aware of any misappropriation of funds at the investment firm during his tenure.
“It was never, at any time, revealed nor brought to my attention that clients’ investments funds were being misappropriated while I was CEO of SSL, nor was I ever made aware of any similar improprieties taking place,” he declared.
The businessman is also denying allegations that he has ever been a shareholder of SSL, “neither in my personal capacity nor through any company I have a stake in.”
He is adamant, too, that “no shareholders of SSL nor any of their affiliated companies have any shares in any company I own or have shares in.”
Meanwhile, Harding said the misinformation being published not just by social media accounts but even some in mainstream media “is having repercussions”.
On that score, he said photographs being shared between Bolt and himself “during my tenure at SSL, captioned with their opinions and what they claim to be ‘facts’, along with the negative comments that come with them, are abusive, erroneous and inaccurate.”
He claimed that this was being done by persons to “muddy the water, provoke anger, and elicit further controversy”.
To that end, Harding asked members of the public to be “cautious” of these false claims being made.
“The ramifications of these false posts are far-reaching, and have serious implications not just for me, my family and my business dealings, but more importantly the psyche of the nation,” he indicated.
The SSL fraud became public on January 12 after it was revealed that Bolt was among the individuals who had been hit by embezzlement at SSL.
Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Dr Nigel Clarke, revealed last week that many elderly citizens were also defrauded of funds at the entity.