In case you missed it: The Panamanian authorities have launched an assault on Pronto Cash, the financial firm of Monte Friesner and his wife Tatiana Nazarova.
Little over a month ago, your Bananama Republic editor received an email from one of the journalists of newspaper El Panama America, who was working on a story about Monte Friesner and his activities here. He sent a list of questions and requests for documents, and our entire newsroom worked diligently on answering as good as possible. Then nothing happened for weeks and we - wrongly, as it turned out - thought they were no longer interested.
In the meantime, some other things happened. Most importantly to us, Mr. Friesner became increasingly vicious in his attacks on your reporter and even started to harass my family and friends.
Then, before we knew it the Pronto Cash office had been busted by the financial authorities, audits were being done, and each and every financial enforcement agency had something to say about Pronto Cash - none of it positive.
The latest is that the Banking Authority has now said that Pronto Cash is not properly licensed to accept funds from the public to load onto Mastercard debit cards.
And it's not just these cards: Pronto Cash offers on its website micro finance, mortgages, payment services, payroll advances (payday loans), and "trade and finance".
The story further alleges that unlimited deposits can be made onto these cards, in cash or digitally, without any need to explain the origin of such funds. In other words, the Mastercard deal of Pronto Cash raises all kinds of money laundering red flags.
Monte Friesner, who runs Pronto Cash even though he doesn't appear anywhere in the corporate documents, was convicted on several counts of fraud and money laundering in the late nineties in the US.
He got out of jail in 1998 and one Lawrence B. Heath, a lawyer with whom Friesner had been doing business laundering Russian money, sponsored his return to his native Canada. It didn't take long for Friesner to land in trouble again: In 2004 the Ontario securities commission fined him for running an unlicensed "prime bank" investment scheme and ordered that he cease trading in securities permanently, and banned Friesner from ever acting as corporate officer or director again:
In its decision the Commission wrote: " It is clearly a scheme that, simplistically speaking, says: 'Give us your money. We'll find others to invest it for you in accordance with our Trading Program. We have access to experts who know what they're doing although the vast majority of persons have no idea. The returns you're going to make are fantastic.' "
The OSC concluded that the materials contained "misleading representations and exorbitant investment promises". It went on to find that First Federal and Friesner had engaged in illegal trading and advising in securities by operating the Web site and distributing the materials.
In determining the appropriate sanctions in this case, the OSC says it reviewed evidence of Friesner's criminal record, including previous convictions on fraud-related charges in both Ontario and the United States. It characterized the conduct of the respondents as "reprehensible".
Panama's financial authorities are now reaching similar conclusions. However, Friesner and Nazarova aren't the only hustlers the authorities are after.
Deeply involved with Friesner's businesses in Panama is lawyer Herbert Young, partner with high-profile Panameñista legislator José Isabel Blandón in the law firm Blandón & Young. As such, they are members of the opposition and that makes them targets of Martinelli's administration which maintains less than amicable relations with the Panameñistas. The point is: They are easy targets. Here's why.
Young incorporated most of Friesner's companies in Panama. His wife, while working at the state-owned Banco Nacional, was president of Swiss Hannover, a real estate firm that was part of the Friesner/Nazarova group of companies. At one point, Young was even presented as a shareholder of Pronto Cash on its FaceBook page.
Blandón as well as Young have dismissed their connections with Friesner as slanderous accusations and denied any real involvement with the convicted advance fee fraudster.
That, however, is royally besides the truth.
The entire cabal is firmly in the same basket through a well-documented criminal complaint for mortgage fraud filed by Friesner's landlord, in which it is alleged that Friesner, Nazarova and Herbert Young, together with some others, tried to steal the rental apartment in which Friesner lives, in the posh Bellagio Tower in Punta Pacifica.
Then, Pronto Cash is actually a group of companies, with the first Pronto Cash incorporated in November 2006 in Ontario, Canada. That company was then, in turn, registered as a foreign company in Florida, USA, for the purpose of opening bank accounts with the Royal Bank of Canada in Sunny Isles, Florida.
And who are the two directors of this corporation? Tatiana Nazarova and Herbert Young, with other Panamanians serving as mere officers. Download the corporate filings here to see for yourself.
The ties between Blandón and Young and Friesner go far beyond that of a lawyer - client relationship or them only serving as registered agents. To put it simply: Blandón and Young are getting their asses fried because their firm is part of an unlicensed debit card scheme that has all the characteristics of a money laundering operation, run by a known serial fraud artist and money launderer who, to top it off, spends part of the overhead on pursuing frivolous lawsuits against journalists, web designers and even against his own family.
The united yammering by Blandón, Young and Friesner about how this operation against Pronto Cash is politically motivated is therefore completely irrelevant: If you take away the politics, you're still left with a foreign crook running an unlicensed banking scheme while protected by and with the participation of a well-connected law firm.
So how will this end? It's only a matter of time before Pronto Cash is closed down. In the meantime, we'll just get out the popcorn and watch events unfold. Who knows what comes out of the audits and investigations!