In October 1999, with Marchant beating his drum, with Nevis’s Ministry of Finance demanding that the IDIC shut its doors on the grounds that it was a sham insurance corporation, with investors clamoring for money, Ziegler decided to resign as First Bank’s CEO. He packed up and moved to Uganda, where he bought a $1.3 million walled compound with a pool and a squash court on the outskirts of Kampala. In a story about the bank’s troubles in the Wall Street Journal, Ziegler responded to a reporter’s questions by e-mail: “The truth is that it isn’t very popular to be so successful when you’ve had such a checkered past,” he wrote. “Maybe it is just that the lower and middle classes are much more understanding of someone who has suffered setbacks, learned from them and figured out how to move on and share what he has learned with others. Or maybe I’m just a sociopathic con artist who needs to be put away.”
On August 11, 2000, the Grenadian Minister of Finance appointed an administrator to oversee First Bank; he subsequently ordered the bank to provide proof within seven days of “the assets you say are owned by the bank, I believe the last count was $62 billion.” The bank could not, and on February 15, 2001, Grenada revoked First Bank’s license.
Marcus Wide, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers from Halifax, Nova Scotia, arrived at First Bank’s Young Street offices in March 2001. An expert in untangling complex financial webs, Wide has worked on some 35 offshore banking investigations during his career—all but one of which was a sham. “You also have to remember, these islands were not very far from colonialism, and the first generations, very bluntly, were prone to corruption,” he says. “They were so poorly regulated and so poorly supervised, it was an invitation for the crooks to move in.”
Hired by Grenada to calculate and liquidate First Bank’s real assets, Wide and his team spent some three months digging through more than 200 boxes of paperwork and thousands of documents—all that was left in the bank’s wake.
Wide eventually determined that First Bank had bilked people out of at least $170 million.
The 10,000-carat ruby that the bank reportedly owned did exist—but it belonged to a California man who had never heard of Ziegler or First Bank. The 870 kilograms of gold bullion were a lie. Wide also found fake checks from fake banks, fake checks from real banks, and thousands of documents that led nowhere. After a month, he released the first of what would be a three-part, 163-page liquidation report. First Bank, he wrote, “was and remains a sham.” Wide eventually determined that First Bank had bilked people out of at least $170 million.
As far as the bank’s recoverable assets, he calculated that the billions of dollars First Bank often claimed it possessed came to no more than $2 million. There was nothing to recover for the people who had entrusted First Bank with their money.
“People did not want to believe that these massive yields were in fact a fantasy,” Wide said recently from his home in Halifax, adding that even after the bank closed, investors continued to call Grenada, insisting that there must be some mistake. “But after I got in there, and it became known there was a liquidation going on,” he says, “the silence was almost deafening.”
Soon after First Bank was shuttered, Ziegler went on to start a new scam: an e-mail campaign known as the Restoration Project. In it he pleaded with people who had sent money to First Bank, asking them to reinvest so that he could fight Wide and PricewaterhouseCoopers, whom Ziegler accused of wresting control of the bank.
Ziegler had a line on a secret project, the e-mail read, involving multimillions and even billions of dollars. For every dollar he received, Ziegler promised a return of $200, and if people signed up right away, their names would be put at the top of the list for repayment. “And the alarming thing is that Ziegler managed to raise some more money,” says Wide. “Of course, he just pocketed the money again.”