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News Wrap: $7 Billion Recouped for Madoff Victims

December 17, 2010 at 5:42 PM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: More than $7 billion is going back to victims of Bernard Madoff’s multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. It’s the largest forfeiture recovery in U.S. history. The widow of a Florida man agreed today to return the money. Jeffry Picower had been the single-largest beneficiary of the scheme.

He died last year.

For more on this, I talked to Diana Henriques of The New York Times a short time ago.

First question has got to be, who is Jeffry Picower, and how is it that he had $7 billion of investments with Bernie Madoff?

DIANA HENRIQUES, The New York Times: Well, the late Jeffry Picower –he died a year in October — October a year ago — was probably one of the quietest richest men in America.

He assembled an enormous wealth. By one estimate, he was worth — he had $10 billion in one trading account at Goldman Sachs in the 1990s, and traded elsewhere. He — he traded legitimately in publicly traded stocks. He engaged in mergers and acquisitions, speculation, and accumulated, very, very quietly, this enormous sum.

He also invested with Bernie Madoff. And it is that money that is being returned now, so that it can be distributed among Madoff’s victims.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Who exactly — which of those victims are going to be getting access to this capital?

DIANA HENRIQUES: Well, that’s a good question, because it’s not everybody. The way Ponzi scheme arithmetic works, the people who will be compensated will be those who put in more cash than they were able to take out before the Ponzi scheme collapsed.

There were many people who just left their fictional profits accumulate. They never took anything out. And so they lost all the cash they put in those accounts. They are at the front of the line. They’re going to be the ones who will share in this recovery.

HARI SREENIVASAN: How is the trustee, Irving Picard, doing in recouping funds?

DIANA HENRIQUES: Well, without a doubt, this is a good day for him.

With this payment, he will be close to $10 billion in the bank. He’s also filed lawsuits, as you know, seeking another $50 billion from major banks, big hedge funds, other investors. And he hopes that some of those defendants will come to the bargaining table and enter into settlements like this, so that he can collect even more money.

But those are likely to be longer fights. Some of those big banks are going to fight to the last fence, so it’s going to take some time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Diana Henriques from The New York Times, thanks so much for joining us.

DIANA HENRIQUES: You’re welcome.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Wall Street closed out the week on a quiet note. The Dow Jones industrial average lost seven points to close at 11491. The Nasdaq rose five points to close just under 2643. For the week, both the Dow and the Nasdaq gained a fraction of 1 percent.

California regulators have approved the nation’s most comprehensive curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. A state board adopted the rules Thursday evening. They set up a cap-and-trade system for utilities, refineries, and others to buy and sell pollution permits. Supporters said it provides financial incentives to limit emissions. Opponents said it would be a drag on the state’s ailing economy.

A political standoff gripped the West African nation of the Ivory Coast today, amid fears of civil war. Streets in the largest city, Abidjan, were nearly deserted, and police were out in force. On Thursday, protests over a disputed presidential election turned violent, and up to 30 people were killed.

The U.S., the U.N. and the African Union have said the opposition won last month’s election. But President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down, despite fresh appeals today from the U.N. secretary-general.

BAN KI-MOON, United Nations secretary-general: The results of the election are known. There was a clear winner. There is no other option. The efforts of Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters to retain power and flout the public will cannot be allowed to stand.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.N. has had about 10,000 peacekeeping troops in the Ivory Coast, a nation of 20 million people. The troops police a settlement that ended a previous civil war.

An international scientific panel will investigate the source of the cholera epidemic in Haiti. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced today the group will be — quote — “completely independent.” There’s been speculation in Haiti that the outbreak started at a base for U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal. The cholera epidemic has killed more than 2,400 people since it began in October.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.