Stanford, the Texan who shook cricket, takes his guard

 

Houston

Wearing a grey patterned suit and a blue open-collared shirt, not the green or orange prison jumpsuits which have been his public attire for almost three years, Allen Stanford faced his peers in a Houston courthouse at last.

The Texan playboy, who once dominated a Caribbean nation and scandalised British cricket, was in court for jury selection at his trial, where he stands accused of running a pyramid scheme second in size only Bernard Madoff's.

The trial was delayed by a year to allow Mr Stanford to recover from a prison beating, which left him with memory problems, depression and an addiction to painkillers – effects that his lawyers had vainly argued meant he could not properly defend himself in court.

But he will have to do so now, in a trial that got underway yesterday in a vast ceremonial courtroom in downtown Houston.

Mr Stanford was brought into the courtroom under the guard of US marshals from federal detention where he is on remand as prisoner number 35017-183. Allowed to change into business attire, and apparently having had a haircut since his pre-trial appearances last week, he donned reading glasses to pore over court documents as the hearing got under way.

Eighty potential jurors filed into court to be quizzed on whether they had an accounting or legal background, whether they had seen publicity about the case and whether they could be impartial. "Thank you for coming," Mr Stanford said to the potential jurors, in a quiet voice, after being introduced to them by his lawyer, Ali Fazel.

Judge Dave Hittner, acting more like an emcee than a typical federal judge, introduced himself as a 25-year veteran of the bench, who would not allow the trial to go beyond the planned six weeks. He told the potential jurors yesterday that he would use a presidential debate-style timer to limit prosecutors and defence lawyers to a pre-agreed schedule.

"There is a lot of publicity in the case, it's very interesting," Mr Hittner said. "But you are going to get the ultimate publicity, right from that witness stand, that's what the system is about."

Mr Stanford denies 14 charges of fraud, conspiracy and obstructing regulators. His business, the largest employer in the island of Antigua, was the centre of a $7.2bn pyramid scheme, prosecutors allege, and Stanford International Bank had been faking investment returns for at least two decades.

Thousands of investors can expect to receive back only pennies for each dollar they put into the company.

The trial recalls an embarrassing period for the England and Wales Cricket Board, which signed a $100m sponsorship deal for Twenty20 cricket with Mr Stanford just a few months before the financier's arrest.

Traditionalists were appalled when the brash Texan was pictured bouncing the wives and girlfriends of the England cricket team on his knee during a match.

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