Madoff faces life in prison

Bernard Madoff, accused of an "unprecedented" $50bn financial swindle, is charged with 11 criminal counts.

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NEW YORK // Bernard Madoff, accused of an "unprecedented" US$50 billion (Dh183bn) financial swindle, was charged yesterday with 11 criminal counts that could put him in prison for the rest of his life. Mr Madoff, 70, a former Nasdaq stock market chairman and money manager accused of bilking investors worldwide, is expected to plead guilty on Thursday, his lawyer said in court. US prosecutors provided new details of the alleged fraud in court papers, saying Madoff's crime spree lasted from "at least" the 1980s.

"The charges reflect an extraordinary array of crimes committed by Bernard Madoff for over 20 years," the Acting US Attorney Lev Dassin in Manhattan said. "While the alleged crimes are not novel, the size and scope of Mr. Madoff's fraud are unprecedented." Mr Madoff was charged with securities fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, making false statements and perjury among other charges, according to the court documents. He faces up to 150 years imprisonment, according to sentencing guidelines.

Prosecutors said the investigation is continuing. No one else has been charged since Mr Madoff was arrested three months ago. The government said in court documents it wants Mr Madoff to forfeit all of the money and property that can be traced back to the alleged fraud - a sum it estimated at more than $170.8bn. Prosecutors did not say how they arrived at that figure. Mr Madoff's lawyers challenged the figure represented as proceeds of his purported crimes.

"We respectfully suggest that the amount of the government's forfeiture demand is grossly overstated, and misleading, even for a case of this magnitude," the lawyers wrote in a letter to the judge. It added that the purpose of the letter "is not to minimise Mr. Madoff's culpability". There is no plea agreement with Mr Madoff, who remains under house arrest. He returned to his Manhattan penthouse apartment after a court hearing where prosecutors announced expanded charges against him.

When defendants agree to plead guilty, they often reach a plea bargain, only admitting guilt on some of the charges in exchange for their co-operation. In this case, however, Madoff is expected to plead guilty to all 11 counts at his next court appearance on Thursday, his lawyer said. The government may then ask the judge to jail him until he is sentenced. Prosecutors have said Madoff confessed in December to running a massive Ponzi scheme - a fraud in which early investors are paid with the money of new clients.

The purported swindle operated for decades, offering amazingly consistent returns of between 10 per cent and 12 per cent, but collapsed in last year's market meltdown. In court papers, prosecutors contended Madoff hired numerous employees "with little or no prior pertinent training or experience in the securities industry" to communicate with his investment clients and "generate false and fraudulent documents".

They said Madoff's investment business had about 4,800 client accounts as of Nov 30 2008, and issued statements for that month reporting that client accounts held a total balance of about $64.8 billion. In reality, the company "held only a small fraction" of that balance for clients. *Reuters