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ECB suspend talks with Allen Stanford

The cricket boards of England & Wales and the West Indies suspended sponsorship talks with R. Allen Stanford after the Texas billionaire was today accused of a ``massive'' fraud by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Stanford was backing a series of five annual Twenty20 cricket matches in the Caribbean with $US20 million ($30 million) at stake in each, with organizers calling it the richest team prize for a single sporting event. A team of top players from the West Indies, known as the Stanford Superstars, won the inaugural event against England in Antigua in November.

US regulators today accused Stanford of running a ``massive, ongoing fraud'' while selling about $US8 billion in certificates of deposit through his Antigua-based Stanford International Bank Ltd. The SEC asked the Dallas federal court to freeze assets and appoint a receiver to return money to investors.

``Following allegations made today by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and their decision to apply for a temporary restraining order which was filed in a Dallas/Fort Worth court, the England & Wales Cricket Board and the West Indies Cricket Board have suspended negotiations with Sir Allen Stanford and his financial corporation concerning a new sponsorship deal,'' the England and West Indies boards said in a joint statement, without commenting further.

Julie Hodge, a spokeswoman for Stanford, said she had no comment.

Stanford announced the annual Twenty20 matches -- the shortest form of the sport -- amid fanfare at Lord's Cricket Ground in London last June, plucking dollar bills from a crate he brought with him to illustrate the amount of money on offer. He'd arrived by helicopter.

The 11 winning West Indies players in November collected $US1 million each with the remainder of the money split between the substitutes on the winning team and the England and West Indies boards.

Stanford in December said he was ``evaluating his options'' about whether to continue funding the series - called the Stanford Super Series -- and the Daily Mail newspaper said he lost $US40 million on the event last year.

Currently, England is playing the West Indies in Antigua as part of a five-game Test series, the elite form in which matches last up to five days.

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