"Stanford and the close circle of family and friends with whom he runs his businesses perpetrated a massive fraud based on false promises and fabricated historical return data to prey on investors,'' Linda Chatman Thomsen, the director of the SEC's division of enforcement, said in a statement.

Customers who arrived at the Stanford bank on Tuesday in Houston were turned away while a sign posted on the door said the firm was "under the management of a receiver".

US law enforcement officials also raided the companies' buildings in the city, as US media descended on the scene and television helicopters flew overhead.

The bank's chief financial officer, James Davis, and Stanford Financial Group's chief investment officer, Laura Pendergest-Holt, were also charged in the complaint, the SEC said.

Increased scrutiny

Stanford, 58, is one of the most prominent businessmen in the Caribbean, with a personal fortune estimated at $2.2bn by Forbes magazine.

A fan of cricket, Stanford developed the Twenty20 competition in the Caribbean and last November held a $20m game between England and his own team made up of West Indian players.

The England and West Indies cricket boards has suspended sponsorship negotiations with Stanford following the fraud charges.

The charges are the latest to be brought after an increase in scrutiny by investors, politicians and regulators on the returns promised and provided by investment firms, following an massive alleged $50bn fraud by Bernard Madoff, the Wall Street financier.

Stanford's investment companies were exposed to losses from the alleged "Ponzi" scheme run by Madoff, and the SEC alleged that it falsely reassured investors this had not been the case.

A Ponzi scheme pays investors with their own money, or with funds from other investors, rather than from returns.