Miami -- An executive of the company claiming to have created the first human clone said Saturday that federal securities regulators were looking into the firm because of its participation in a weekend investors conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"I've been contacted very recently by the Securities and Exchange Commission just about this conference here," Clonaid Vice President Thomas Kaenzig told reporters as the MoneyWorld 2003 Investment and Trading Conference got under way.
Kaenzig, a keynote speaker at the Broward County Convention Center conference, declined to say why the SEC inquired.
Clonaid's presence at the conference may have attracted the SEC's attention because the gathering featured a variety of companies that target venture capitalists and everyday investors. The firm, founded by an alien-worshiping religious group, is not registered to do business in Florida or other parts of the United States.
The SEC, which regulates the securities industry, including start-up companies, could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Conference participants didn't seem much interested in investing in Clonaid. The company's workshop late Saturday attracted only a handful of people.
Clonaid, initially registered in the Bahamas, has been under scrutiny by the federal government since 2001, when it temporarily opened its first U.S. cloning lab in West Virginia.
Clonaid was founded in 1997 by a Quebec-based religious sect called Raelians who believe space aliens created life on Earth through cloning.
On Saturday, Kaenzig refused to provide any new information about Clonaid's amazing claim about the birth of baby "Eve" on Dec. 26 to a 31-year-old American mother outside the United States.
Clonaid's president, Brigitte Boisselier, backed down from her promise to provide independent DNA proof last week, saying the child's parents were afraid to go forward because of a lawsuit seeking custody of the baby girl in Broward County, Fla.
The suit will ask a judge on Jan. 22 to assign temporary custody of the cloned baby to Florida's child-welfare agency. Attorney Bernard Siegel, who filed the suit, said that on Saturday morning, he served Kaenzig with a witness summons to compel his appearance at the custody hearing. He said he also served the cloned baby's mother, through Kaenzig.
Wearing the silver Raelian medallion depicting the Star of David, Kaenzig seemed confused as he answered reporters' questions at the conference.
Kaenzig, who described himself as a 30-year-old businessman of Swiss descent who joined the Raelians almost a decade ago, said his workshops were meant to be educational - though the firm's promotions touted opportunities for venture capitalists.
He said Clonaid was not a corporation, but then said it had legal entities around the world. He said Clonaid does solicitations for investors over the Internet, but declined to say how much money it has raised. The company requires a minimum investment of $25,000.
He said the company charges between $100,000 and $200,000 a human clone, but then said it had not charged any of its first patients.
The United States has no specific law banning human cloning, though the Food and Drug Administration has contended since 1998 that its regulations forbid cloning without the agency's permission.
American Exposition Concepts, a Las Vegas-based firm that produced MoneyWorld 2003, sought out Clonaid for the event because of its sudden celebrity. Marilyn Clark, director of operations, said Clonaid's presentation was "strictly educational." She said Morningstar, the prominent, Chicago-based market research company, was the only exhibitor to pull out because of Clonaid.
One financial expert whose Clearwater, Fla., company provides market research said investors should be wary of Clonaid's "prospecting for money."
"Until they supply financial disclosure forms and DNA proof of the cloning, this is nothing more than a biotechnology Enron," said J. Michael Pinson.