Europe

Disgraced US financier Bernie Madoff dies in prison

Bernie Madoff, the disgraced Wall Street financier who defrauded investors around the world out of tens of billions of dollars in the largest Ponzi scheme in history, has died in a US prison.

In a statement sent to Euronews, a US Bureau of Prisons spokesperson confirmed that Madoff had passed away at the Federal Medical Center, a prison for male inmates with special health needs, in Butner, North Carolina, on Wednesday.

The spokesperson said the former financier had died of natural causes and confirmed that his death was not related to COVID-19. They said they could not share any further information regarding the circumstances of his death.

Last year, Madoff had requested an early release from prison due to health issues, including kidney disease, but that request was denied.

The biggest Ponzi scheme in history

Madoff had been serving a 150-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2009 to 11 federal felonies and admitting to having run a major Ponzi scheme that impacted businesses, organizations, banks and families around the world, including across Europe.

Madoff had initially launched his firm, Bernard L Madoff Investment Securities in 1960, with the company quickly becoming a major player on Wall Street and the financier serving as chairman of the Nasdaq stock exchange.

While his firm was investigated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission on several occasions due to its exceptional returns, it was only in the wake of the global recession that the extent of Madoff’s scheme was found out.

The financier had told clients that they had holdings of roughly $60bn in his company. However, when they tried to withdraw billions of dollars in funds, he was unable to come up with the money.

That is because Madoff had been using money paid to him by clients to fund deposits to new investors since the 1990s, investigators alleged, in a plot that has been deemed the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.

As his plot began to unravel, the financier came clean to family members about his years-long scheme and they, in turn, went to the authorities.

Far-reaching impacts

The list of people, organisations, companies and banks scammed by Madoff is far-reaching, with families across continents around the world impacted, including in Europe.

“We thought he was God; we trusted everything in his hands,” Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize said years ago after he and his organization, The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, were caught up in the scam.

Wiesel’s foundation was among many organizations to be affected, with the scam impacting small firms to major banks, including a string of European banks, including BNP Paribas, Santander and Swiss private bank Reichmuth & Co.

In total, an estimated $65bn is believed to have been lost in the scam, with only a fraction of that being recovered.

In court, Madoff had expressed remorse for his actions, asserting that when he began the scheme in the 1990s, he had hoped it would only be a short-term pursuit.

“I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for what I have done,” he said as he pleaded guilty back in March 2009, according to past reporting from Reuters. “I am painfully aware that I have deeply hurt many, many people,” he said at the time.

Yet, even as he expressed regret, Madoff suggested that he had long expected to be brought to justice for his crimes, telling the court that he knew his day of reckoning “would inevitably come”.

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