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Prosecutors order disgraced financier to forfeit US$171b

BERNARD Madoff would be stripped of all his possessions under a US$171 billion forfeiture order handed down only days before prosecutors seek to put the disgraced financier in prison for the rest of his life.

United States District Judge Denny Chin entered the preliminary order last Friday, ruling that Madoff must give up his interests in all property, including real estate, investments, cars and boats.

The forfeiture represents the total amount that could be connected to Madoff's fraud, not the amount stolen or lost, and the order made clear that nothing prevents other departments or entities from seeking to recover additional funds.

A call to Madoff's lawyer, Ira Sorkin, hours after the order, was not immediately returned. In a court filing in March, Sorkin said the government's forfeiture demand of US$177 billion was "grossly overstated - and misleading - even for a case of this magnitude."

The 71-year-old Madoff pleaded guilty in March to charges that his exclusive investment advisory business was actually a massive illegal pyramid scheme. Federal prosecutors say Madoff orchestrated perhaps the largest financial swindle in history.

Acting US Attorney Lev Dassin, who released a copy of the order last Friday night, plans to seek a 150-year prison term at Madoff's sentencing today. Sorkin has argued in court papers for a 12-year term.

According to Friday's order, the government also settled claims against Madoff's wife. Under the arrangement, the government obtained Ruth Madoff's interest in all property, worth more than US$80 million, prosecutors said. The order left her US$2.5 million in assets.

Interests stripped

The agreements strip the Madoffs of all their interest in properties belonging to them, including homes in Manhattan, Montauk, New York and Palm Beach, Florida, worth a total of nearly US$22 million. The Madoffs must also forfeit all salable personal property contained in the homes.

Other seized assets include accounts at Cohmad Securities Corp, valued at almost US$50 million, and at Wachovia Bank, valued at just over US$13 million, and tens of millions of dollars in loans extended by Madoff.

The judge's order also authorized the US Marshals Service to sell properties in Montauk and Palm Beach and certain cars and boats.

At the time of Madoff's arrest, fictitious account statements showed thousands of clients had US$65 billion. But investigators say he never traded securities, and instead used money from new investors to pay returns to existing clients.

Prosecutors said the total losses, which span decades, have not been calculated. But 1,341 accounts opened since December 1995 alone suffered losses of US$13.2 billion, they said.

Prosecutors said federal sentencing guidelines allow for the 150-year term, and any lesser sentence should still be long enough to send a forceful message and "assure that Madoff will remain in prison for life."


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