(UPDATE 25/7: Pronto Cash website has been taken offline). Almost two years after Bananama Republic first reported how MasterCard was investigating Pronto Cash for fraud, the credit card firm has now indeed pulled the plug on the financial schemes of convicted Canadian con man Monte Friesner, his wife Tatiana Nazarova and the law firm of Herbert Young and José Blandon.
Pronto Cash can't issue any new cards, and the existing ones will cease to function, MasterCard said in a statement.
FRIESNER ASSOCIATE SPILLS THE BEANS
Most of our readers will have gotten the news through newspaper El Panama America when they opened with that story on July 9th. But, we heard it a bit before that, from an erstwhile Friesner associate, Humberto J. Aguilar.
Aguilar is yet another money-launderer-turned-consultant, and he wrote us that Monte Friesner tried to recruit him to write for his website WantedSA and then to become "compliance manager" for Pronto Cash. Here's part of what Aguilar wrote:
I did not know that he was a con-man and so I wrote several articles for them....He then asked that I work for WANTED and to become the COMPLIANCE MANAGER for Pronto Cash ....in deciding to undertake the position I investigated with several sources including the authorities (MICI) in Panama and MASTER CARD in Miami...I learned that he has been selling ProntoCash as an exclusive Master Card debit card provider in South America (later I discovered that he has been trying to sell the concept to IRANIANS and to others in CANADA -- he has now been shut down thanks to my efforts and thanks to the quick action of Master Card in believing that I was telling them the truth that MONTE MORRIS FRIESNER, if that is his name, is a crook......there are several thousand persons affected and thousands of dollars missing....they have been shut down by the government of Panama also.
Monte was involved in a scam to defraud Master Card...and the government of Panama by running PRONTO CASH...
An upstanding legislator like José Blandón, lawyer Herbert Young and their law firm, involved in attempts to defraud Panama's government? The plot thickens! In any case, you can be pretty sure that if there weren't any monetary interests, Blandón and Young would have divorced Friesner already now that he is becoming such a reputational and legal risk.
About the other money-launderer-turned-consultant, Kenneth Rijock, who did accept to work for Friesner and launch online smear campaigns against journalists and victims of Friesner's scams, Aguilar, in one of his emails to Bananama Republic, had this to say:
(...) I also agree that KEN RIJOCK is playing with fire by not getting out of any relationship with Monte....but he is a grown man and has to do what he has to do.....
At first, your reporter was somewhat skeptical about Mr. Aguilar, because, after all, he did write some stories for Friesner's WantedSA rag. However, it was then confirmed and then published independently that MasterCard had pulled the plug on Friesner's Pronto Cash, so in fact what Aguilar said turned out to be true.
PRONTO CASH TAKES DOWN COACECSS WITH IT?
The spectacular collapse of Pronto Cash is unfolding in sync with increasing trouble at related financial institutions in Panama.
As recent as February 24 of this year, Friesner proudly announced on the Pronto Cash website that Pronto Cash had been appointed as exclusive issuer of MasterCard for the COACECSS Credit Union. COACECSS is a credit union for employees of the social security system in Panama. Said Friesner's story:
Financiera Pronto Cash S.A has been appointed as exclusive issuer of MasterCard for COACECSS Credit Union which is one of the most successful financial groups in the Republic of Panama. Financiera Pronto Cash has been issuing MasterCard for members of COACECSS and has designed a special Gold MasterCard for over 20,000 individuals at COACECSS.
But then just 4 months later, on June 29, Panama's financial newspaper Capital Financiero reported that the authority overseeing credit unions, Ipacoop, took over temporary management of COACECSS because of non-compliance with legal requirements and what they called "deteriorating finances and investment management." Translated, this was the money quote:
Resolution JD/11/2012, authorizing the intervention, indicated that the audit that was carried out “details an alarming deterioration of financial and administrative organization at this cooperative and that such circumstances pose a serious risk to the investments by the cooperative and therefore the money from partners and third parties.
The article doesn't give any specifics on these deteriorating investments and sloppy administration, but could it perhaps be that Friesner, together with his associates Tatiana Nazarova, Herbert Young and José Blandón, where sticking their greasy hands in the social security workers' cookie jar?
Such a theory doesn't seem too far-fetched, considering that Friesner's well documented career of fraud and extortion does include things like advance fee fraud with loans, mortgage fraud, an attempt to steal a hotel by impersonating a lawyer, sending out fake diplomats to drum up business, and so on.
THE WATERGATE CONNECTION
However, Friesner and his clique aren't the only vultures circling COACECSS. Offshore CD Network Inc., a company in which Nixon's former Watergate bagman and ex-partner of rogue financier Robert Vesco, Gilbert Straub, is a principal, is selling CD's for COACECSS. Who is Straub? There's tons of information on Google, but here's the beef from the testimony of a former US undercover agent, Robert Mazur:
With regard to Panama, I shared office space with Gilbert Straub, a convicted drug money launderer who was formerly a lieutenant of Robert Vesco. During the early 1970's, Straub ran Vesco's operations in New Jersey. He is the individual who personally delivered $50,000 in U.S. currency that was initially used to buy the silence of the Watergate Burglars. After Straub, Vesco and others were indicted for SEC violations in the early 1970's, he fled to Panama, established Panamanian citizenship, and embarked on a career of laundering illegal proceeds for U.S. based organized crime figures. Straub informed me of innumerable facts relative to the illegal activities he and others staged from Panama.
Have Straub and Friesner been turning COACECSS into a vehicle, or a conduit, for dirty money laundering for "organized crime figures"? It seems very suspicious, to say the least, that COACECSS is about the only banking institution left that has not been running away from Friesner et al as fast as they can (another exception is CitiBank, which appears to still maintain a business relationship with Friesner and Nazarova).
SHADY FUNDS FROM CANADA
Furthermore, various sources close to Friesner and even inside Pronto Cash have assured Bananama Republic that none (!) of the businesses Friesner has started since he settled down in Panama has actually made any money. On the contrary, he has squandered millions away on wacky schemes and scams. Yet, Friesner and Nazarova live in an apartment in Punta Pacifica that costs almost $10,000 per month in rent, they rent office space in the Credicorp building and a big office on the causeway, they have staff, and even a driver - in other words, a conservative estimate of their monthly overhead would be around $30k. With no income, except that, according to those same sources, there seems to be a steady flow of money coming from shadowy sources in Canada.
Whichever the truth, the demise of Friesner, his partners and Pronto Cash has deeper causes and farther reaching implications than what meets the eye.