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Herald Sun: Boiler room racket hits investors

Boiler room racket hits investors
By ADRIAN TAME and MANDI ZONNEVELDT - 05aug01

HUNDREDS of Australians have lost millions of dollars in the world's largest sharemarket scam.

The racket was masterminded by a shady Filipino, Amador Pastrana, 31, who has made $6 billion in eight years. Pastrana is on the run.

The FBI will move soon to close the global operation, but it will be too late for the Australians – two of whom are known to have been cheated of $400,000 each. Last week's raid on a boiler room – a sophisticated, "cold calling" operations centre – in the Thai capital of Bangkok was the tip of a fraudulent iceberg.

Pastrana, according to one of his victims, has built an empire of 50 boiler rooms in nine countries, and also receives "dirty" money from criminal groups and from arms deals. The victim says Pastrana then launders the money through his sharemarket scam, doubly profits.

Pastrana regularly works 20-hour days, seven days a week and has become one of the world's richest people. He is close to the Thai royal family, various archbishops and also is a friend of disgraced former Philippines president Joseph Estrada.

Australia has been one of the countries most heavily targeted by Pastrana and his army of high-pressure telephone salesmen. But last week's arrest of 80 people in Bangkok was just the "tip of the iceberg", according to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

ASIC officials warned that unlicensed brokerage firms are still operating in Asia. Thailand's securities watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Commission, has asked police to file criminal charges against seven men who allegedly ran Bangkok-based stock trading firms that tried to scam investors, mostly in Australia and New Zealand.

The SEC alleges the seven men headed stock brokerage firms without a licence from the Thai Government. It says they sought to sell shares of non-existent or dubious companies to investors. The seven are John Martin Kealy, Ronan Joseph Murray, Paul Mary Hickey, Scott Campbell Fisher, Jason Garrick Rich, Adrian Robert Wallis and Steven Hooper. The SEC provided no details about them. Hickey, an Irishman, and Fisher, an Australian, are in custody.

The unlicensed firms employ English-speaking backpackers in Asia to "cold call" people, encouraging them to buy shares on the stock market. People are pressured into investing thousands of dollars – which usually disappears.

ASIC's executive director of consumer protection, Peter Kell, said the latest arrests were only a deterrent. "Quite a few cold callers will continue to exist and consumers need to be vigilant to make sure they are not tricked," Mr Kell said. ASIC has been flooded with thousands of phone calls since the Thai arrests.

Overall losses are believed to be billions of dollars and by fraudulently using the stock of just one company, Berten USA, Pastrana has fleeced Australian investors of $25 million. The company's president, James Martin, claims if US authorities and the FBI had listened when he warned them a year ago of fraudulent transactions in his stock, up to 90 per cent of the Australian losses could have been avoided. Instead, US authorities told Mr Martin there was nothing they could do about the scam because it had not taken place on American soil and they had received no complaints from US victims.

It was not until Pastrana made his first major mistake in nine years – he forged Mr Martin's signature on a document – that the FBI began an inquiry. Berten USA started as a legitimate manufacturer of men's cologne. After being dormant for a decade, Berten was purchased by an American known as "Dan", who is implicated in Pastrana's operation, and is a suspect in a $1.8 million US security fraud.

"Dan" sold Berten as a shell company to Pastrana shortly before he introduced the Filipino to Mr Martin. At the time, Mr Martin was operating a legitimate Silicon Valley company called Stratasys and needed investment capital. "Dan" suggested Pastrana to Mr Martin as a potential source of the investment capital. Pastrana agreed to invest $US7.5 million on condition Mr Martin used Berten as the vehicle and became company president.

Pastrana's background appeared impeccable and among his references was then-president Estrada. "He was going to put in $US7.5 million to add to the $US2.5 million my colleagues and I had invested," Mr Martin said. "When I first met him in December 1999, he was charming and deeply concerned I was happy with everything he was doing.

It was a class act, very accomplished and polished." Mr Martin and Pastrana met regularly over the next year and all went well until Mr Martin caught two employees planning to embezzle $600,000 from Stratasys. "I fired them immediately, and then I received a quite forcible call from Pastrana saying I should reinstate them," he said. "That's when I first smelled a rat."

His suspicions were soon confirmed when he started receiving phone calls from Pastrana's friends asking when he was going to float Berten USA. Information of that nature is illegal insider trading. In August last year, following his float, Mr Martin went to the authorities and asked them to take his stock off the market. But it already was too late.

Mr Martin and his friends lost their $US2.5 million original investment and Mr Martin lost a further $US27.5 million. He was declared bankrupt but later discharged. He then set off to trace investors who had lost money. So far he has been to Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and South Africa.

The FBI had Pastrana under surveillance for weeks and was due to arrest him and close his operation any day. But last week's Thai-led raid on the Bangkok boiler room, which snared 10 Australians and 70 other foreigners, was premature.

Mr Martin said Thai officials had needed a boost for a local election and the raid provided the opportunity. The original plan was for simultaneous raids on 25 boiler rooms in 15 countries but the other boiler rooms have now been warned. And, Mr Martin said, one of the two companies named by Thai police after the raid, Benson Dupont Capital Management, was one of the least effective cogs in Pastrana's operation.

"Everybody they picked up in the raid was very small fry," he said. Mr Martin left Australia on Wednesday after meeting defrauded investors. "For the past two months I have been touring the world tracing investors who have been burned," he said. "There is no legal obligation to do this, but I see it as a moral obligation.

These people placed their faith in my company and have lost large amounts. "Their reaction to me has been understandably suspicious to begin with, but I have addressed a lot of meetings now, and generally my version of events has been accepted." Mr Martin has compiled detailed lists of many of the 4000 victims worldwide who bought worthless shares in Berten USA and has put together an international "hit parade" of the worst-hit countries.

He believed it was almost impossible to work out global losses on companies manipulated by Pastrana. "He picks up five new companies every month, aiming for 60 a year. He plugs and dumps them at the same rate," Mr Martin said. "Berten is the only one I know about in detail and investors lost $25 million in Australia alone in under a year. "If you start multiplying that figure by 60 times a year for nine years, you are probably starting to get close."


PCIJ Report: Filipino is king of boiler rooms
By Sheila Samonte-Pesayco

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism - Philippine Headline News Online - Newsflash.org
From The Philippine Star 04/15/2002

The operator of what could be the biggest scam syndicate in the world is a Filipino, authorities in various countries say.

Just 30 years old, Amador Apungan Pastrana, has become the face of 21st-century high-tech fraud. According to authorities here and abroad, he is the brains of a global network of boiler room operation that have duped hundreds of thousands of investors with little knowledge of the financial market, but with lots of money to spare.

Pastrana’s alleged victims include 4,000 people who lost $35 million they invested in one of his shell companies, thousands of retirees in Australia and New Zealand, and nearly 700 South Africans who lost a total of $28 million, of which $5 million belonged to businessman Lino Leoni, one of the owners of the renowned DeBeers diamond company.

Accounts in the Internet and Australian newspapers say Pastrana has already amassed some $6 billion in a mere eight years, a wealth accumulated largely from running at least 150 boiler rooms in nine countries. But his operations have also earned him the ire of the police and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and in some European countries. None, however, has managed to catch up with the slippery Filipino.

Pastrana, who maintains posh homes in Manila and Los Angeles, is now on the watchlist of authorities in many countries, including the Philippines. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has also begun to investigate his activities. Police in Austria want to talk to him, as well as to US national Regis Possino, a disbarred lawyer convicted of fraud and drug dealing, and shady Saudi Arabian businessman Adnan Khashoggi. Media reports say the three men were members of a consortium that bought a small Viennese bank without a brokering license, and then turned it into a boiler room.

But Tomas Syquia, acting director of the Compliance and Enforcement Division of the Philippine SEC, says building a case against the international syndicate is difficult because of the complexity of the modus operandi. Most of the victims are all overseas, making it hard and costly to gather information and court evidence.

As of this writing, the PCIJ has yet to hear from Pastrana or his legal representatives in Manila, to whom it sent a written list of questions.

Still, James Martin, director of Sydney-based Stock Investigation Research Society (SIRS), a network of victims of boiler room operators, says, "He (Pastrana) is the Henry Ford of boiler rooms. He has taken it into mass production scale like no one else."

Called "boiler rooms" because they usually work out of cramped office spaces with desks and telephones and apply high-pressure sales pitches on their victims, operations like that of Pastrana’s can be found in practically every continent. Each office has an army of telemarketers that call up retirees, pensioners, lottery winners — anybody who’s neither a banker nor a broker — who are thousands of miles away, and more than likely in another country. The glorified telemarketers then pitch stocks of "pinksheet" companies, or those whose shares sell for a fraction of a penny, listed on the unregulated Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB) of the US NASDAQ.

These boiler rooms hire expatriates with Western accents who present themselves as hotshot brokers of securities firms that have impressive-sounding names such as Morgan Lynch (a cross of US investment banks J.P. Morgan and Merrill Lynch), Griffin Securities, Muller & Sons, Dukes & Company, and Knowle & Sachs. They send out glossy newsletters, put up Internet sites and pester the potential victim with follow-up calls until he agrees to part with his savings and buy the stocks. Clients, who plunk down amounts that range from $1,000 to $5 million each, then receive instructions on how to send the payment by telegraphic transfer to a bank overseas.

The companies collapse their operations after six months to a year or when too many clients itching to see returns start burning their phone lines. But like zombies, the firms come alive again in another office address or in another part of the world, using a different name and another set of incorporation papers. Often, too, the salespeople would say they are calling from Bangkok, Hong Kong or China, even if they are making the calls in, say, Manila.

Clients who try to cash in on their investments are never successful. More often than not, the boiler rooms do not really buy the shares and merely pocket the money. When the clients run to their respective SECs for help, they find out they have put their trust in obscure companies that do not even hold a license to trade stocks or a legitimate office address. Their phone calls go to business centers paid to render secretarial work and receive calls that are automatically re-routed to the boiler room’s landlines.

Engineer Peter Harvey, who lives in the remote town of Kondinin in Western Australia, admits losing $150,000 from investing in OTCBB shares offered by boiler rooms allegedly owned by Pastrana. In an e-mail interview, Harvey recounts how he was first "sold" shares of companies believed to be part of Pastrana’s own pinksheet empire, and then later told that his account was being transferred to another firm and then another.

As Harvey tells it, he had first dealt with First Federal Capital, a company operating in Makati City but based in Palau, in 1997. A year later, he was told his account was being transferred to Pryce Weston, which had supposedly bought First Federal. In 1999, another company called Saxon and Swift, which also had offices in Vanuatu and Hong Kong, took over Pryce Weston.

Harvey says the same thing happened with Bradshaw Global Asset Management, another boiler room company then based in Makati but with a representative office in Rancho Sta. Margarita in California. Sometime in early 2000, Bradshaw’s operations were taken over by Newport Pacific Securities and Management, also based in Makati. According to Harvey, Newport eventually ceased operations, and his account was moved to Gibson and Peterson Company, based in Bangkok.

"I even flew over to the Philippines to meet them and have a look at their operations," says Harvey. He says he did not find anything suspicious at the time. Now, though, he has only one word to describe these companies: "parasites."

Yet while Pastrana seems to be the present king of boiler rooms, he was not the inventor of this elaborate scam. Experts say boiler rooms began more than a decade ago in the United States, particularly in Florida, where they reportedly flourished due to lax investment rules there as well as the large population of retirees.

SIRS’s Martin reckons boiler rooms boomed soon after 1990, when the US SEC allowed the trading of the so-called "Regulation S" shares. The policy, meant to respond to the increasing globalization of the capital markets, allows the sale of securities not registered with the US SEC to be sold to offshore investors. But Martin says what it has really done is to allow boiler rooms to mislead investors outside of the United States. These investors are led to believe they are being sold shares in legitimate US companies, and that the transactions have the seal of approval of US regulators. Coming at a time when stock markets were doing very well, the boiler rooms hit pay dirt in the hundreds of thousands of people eager to invest even their nest eggs.

When the FBI conducted a major sweep in the early 1990s, the boiler rooms simply moved their operations outside of the United States, eventually choosing countries that had no extradition arrangements with US law enforcement agencies, or with weak rules of law. Many of the boiler rooms thus set up their dialing offices in Canada, Hong Kong, the Bahamas, Panama, Costa Rica, Liberia and South Africa. Some apparently wound up in the Philippines, with one of them eventually employing Pastrana.

A BS Computer Science graduate of Trinity College in Quezon City, Pastrana had first worked as a crewmember in a McDonald’s outlet before he chanced upon a newspaper ad for telemarketers in a Makati-based firm called Griffin Securities. It turned out to be a boiler room operation, but Pastrana lasted long enough in the company to master the "business." Some of his former employees were told that Pastrana took some vital diskettes with him when he resigned from Griffin. They believe he used these to help set up his first company, which became First Federal Capital.

According to the Philippine SEC records of AAP Management, Inc., his flagship company, Pastrana managed to have more than 10 companies in just a span of five years. It is believed these companies form part of his legitimate business and still do not include his boiler rooms. Among those listed as his previous positions were managing director of First Federal Capital, Inc. and president of Mendez Prior Hall, which authorities raided and were able to seize documents from showing the extent of its boiler room operations.

Today, Pastrana is said to own more than 100 boiler rooms and shell companies around the world. Some of them are incorporated in small tax-haven territories such as the Bahamas, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Mauritius, Cayman Islands, Western Samoa, Turks and Caicos, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Island of Nevis, and the republics of Liberia and Seychelles. Those in the United States were incorporated in Nevada, Florida, Delaware and South Carolina.

Martin, who says he was duped by Pastrana in an even more complicated way, has also received reports that Pastrana in the early 1990s had crossed paths with Sherman Mazur, a German national who was then running boiler rooms in the United States. In 1993, Mazur was sentenced to five years in prison in California for securities fraud. While he was serving time, Mazur reportedly passed on the management of his boiler rooms to Pastrana, "whom he trusted," says Martin. "But Amador not only took over these boiler rooms, (he) set up more."

Records obtained on Pastrana's US corporate empire as of June 2000, though, lists only seven OTCBB-listed companies created out of a series of reverse mergers and acquisition of dormant firms. The results are several holding companies operating only on paper, usually with the same corporate secretary, Roy Rayo, or Filipino lawyer Claudine Montenegro whom Martin also sued for practising in the US without a license.

The seven US holding companies are neatly spread out into different sectors. Apart from Digital Reach Holdings Corp., which takes care of investments, there is Key Holdings Corp., which was incorporated in Nevada, but is an "online gaming company based in Antigua or Dominican Republic." Netsat Holdings Ltd. is said to focus on telecommunications and Internet service, Your Future Holdings Inc. on educational development and technology, Labco Pharma on pharmaceuticals, and another Cayman-based holding company for food. There is also Stratasys, once owned by Martin but is now Pastrana's, which is a Bermuda-based holding firm supposedly handling software development.

The shares of these companies are listed on the OTCBB, which is highly vulnerable to price manipulation. Not surprisingly, these nearly worthless company stocks are among the offerings of Pastrana's boiler rooms. Harvey himself says he was among those who loaded up on Labco Pharma shares.

While the clients of his operations permanently part ways with their money, Pastrana has yet to stop raking it in. According to one of his former employees here in Manila, his companies tills rang up a total of some $5 million a day in 2000. Other ex-employees say more than a third of that automatically went to Pastrana while only a tenth was used to buy legitimate stocks in behalf of clients.

A former resident of a squatter community in Guadalupe Viejo in Makati, Pastrana is now said to own a $2.8-million apartment penthouse on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.

"He also bought his mother a lovely gift: a $14-million house in Rancho Santa Margarita in Mission Viejo, California," says Martin. "A very nice son, don't you think?"

In the Philippines, his properties reportedly include two luxury condominium units in the high-end Essensa East in Taguig, a villa with a view of the sea in Caylabne Bay, the Winners restaurant on Arnaiz Avenue in Makati, and units at The Peak, also in Makati. Authorities hot on Pastrana’s trail say some of the properties have been placed under the name of his front companies such as Euro Pacific Trade Inc., or those of members of his immediate family.

Pastrana’s megabucks have also found their way into listed conglomerates such as Hong Kong’s Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., as well as Singapore Telecoms, US metal producer Alcoa Inc., Pacific Cyberworks of Hong Kong, and US semiconductor firm Intel.

United Resources Asset Management Inc., which was set up in May 2000 and now acts as investment manager for the entire Pastrana group of companies, had a portfolio of $200,000 invested in these stocks. In its first year of operation, the company targeted an investment of over $20 million a year, according to AAP Management records.

Some of his associates say that despite his supposed riches, Pastrana still has some simple joys, among them buying brand-name shoes at bargain prices in either Bangkok or Hong Kong. But he is also known for e-mailing his personal secretary to keep replenishing his stock of blue and black Mont Blanc pens, as well as showing off the results of his latest liposuction or the wonders cosmetic surgery has done on his face.

Obviously, too, Pastrana is making good a promise his former associates say he made to himself several years back. When he was still a struggling college student, Pastrana was said to have sworn in true Scarlett O’Hara fashion: "I shall never go hungry again." (To be continued)

By Sheila Samonte-Pesayco Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
From The Philippine Star 04/16/2002


Laws, raids fail to thwart boiler room activities
By Sheila Samonte-Pesayco

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
(Conclusion)

From The Philippine Star 04/17/2002

Even the US Federal Bureau of Investigation is now looking into his companies’ activities, but Pangasinense Amador Apungan Pastrana has managed to elude authorities across the globe who want to pin him down for the shenanigans of his alleged boiler room firms.

Indeed, Pastrana, who is said to head a global network of "collapsible" companies that hype nearly worthless stocks to gullible investors and then just suddenly close shop months later, remains free to enjoy the billions of dollars he is reported to have earned in the few years that he has been in business.

And despite raids last year in Bangkok and Manila, boiler rooms still thrive in both cities as well as other places around the world. Authorities also admit that these operations have grown even more sophisticated as years pass. They say that the heads of some networks have even started to buy banks, intending to use these not only to launder their money, but also to use as centers for their boiler room transactions.

James Martin, who claims to have lost $35 million to Pastrana in a completely different scam and now heads Sydney-based Stock Investigation Research Society (SIRS), says, "Those that were picked up by authorities (so far) were just small fry. They haven’t gotten the big one (like Pastrana)."

Authorities say that the big bosses of boiler rooms are hard to catch largely because the transactions cross borders, giving rise to questions on jurisdiction. Up until last year, in fact, US authorities seemed uninterested in checking boiler room operations, even if the stocks these firms were selling were those listed in the unregulated Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB) of the US NASDAQ. Former boiler room employees themselves say that they were given strict instructions not to call anyone in the US or pitch shares to American citizens, fearing the long arm of US laws.

It was only after US national Christopher Coppola was stabbed to death in Pasig last May that the FBI began scrutinizing boiler room operations, especially those linked to Pastrana. Coppola had reportedly been employed by a Pastrana boiler room in Manila.

The PCIJ has learned that the US Customs police is now also following leads that Pastrana has been laundering proceeds of his illegal operations by amassing properties in the United States.

But Tomas Syquia, acting director of the Compliance and Enforcement Division of the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), echoes Allan Cantado of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in saying that it is difficult to make a case against boiler room companies because of the inadequacies of local and international laws, and the sheer shortage of official manpower.

Cantado points out, too, that in the Philippines alone, prosecuting agencies should first prove that the company does not really hold a license to deal with securities, and that the transactions really existed for a case involving violations of the Securities Regulations Code to prosper.

"The problem is that the complainants are all foreigners and don’t want to come here (to the Philippines)," he says. "They only send documents. Under our jurisprudence, victims have to physically appear before the fiscal to lodge a formal complaint."

Cantado also does not rule out the possibility that boiler rooms get prior warnings before they are raided, leaving the police with little to show afterwards. "Considering that the syndicate is moneyed," he says, "it’s not totally impossible that they pay off or have paid off insiders to tip them off" whenever a raid was or is going to be conducted.

He suspects this is precisely what happened in an NBI raid of a Makati-based boiler room. Recounts Cantado: "When we came in, the coffee on their office desks was still hot. We found out they had left just minutes ago through the emergency exit at the back door."

Yet in March last year, the Philippine SEC thought it finally had some goods on Pastrana after a raid on 88 Corporate Business Center in Makati. The bust had been conducted after a Saudi national who lost $48,811 to two boiler rooms lodged a formal complaint against the companies that duped him. According to the SEC, the raid on 88 Corporate Business Center established the interlocking relationships of boiler rooms linked with Pastrana: not only were several documents on the illegal stock brokering operations of 21 firms all found in one office, but they also share some names as incorporators.

A month later, the SEC filed a criminal case with the Department of Justice (DoJ) against 21 companies and 14 individuals, including nine foreigners and John/Jane Does believed to be working as brokers or telemarketers. Among those charged with the criminal offense of running an operation that trades securities without a license were Pastrana, Rufina Abad, Noel Galang, Hilda Ronquillo, Greshiela Compendio and British national Gregory P. Barnes.

The SEC thought it had an airtight case. Apart from documents, it was also able to gather sworn testimonies from witnesses who were privy to the inner workings of Pastrana’s companies.

But Pastrana’s lawyers got an injunction order from the Regional Trial Court of Muntinlupa preventing the SEC, NBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using documents seized from the raid as court evidence. The court ruled that the search warrant used to get the documents was invalid as it violated the legal procedure of stating only one offense. The court also charged the SEC and NBI for contempt after the agencies failed to return the documents within the deadline it imposed.

With the documents declared inadmissible by the court, the DOJ last November decided to junk the case for lack of evidence.

Those close to the case say the police in Hong Kong were dismayed to learn what had happened here. The week after the March 2001 raid in Makati, five Filipinos were arrested in a Hong Kong hotel for allegedly trying to launder some $50 million in proceeds from boiler rooms. All five were believed to be working for Pastrana, and were actually based in Manila. The Organized Crime and Triad Bureau of Hong Kong alleged that many of their victims had paid through Hong Kong accounts set up through company-formed agents there.

Today, only one of the five Filipinos remains in detention, the rest having been released on bail. But one of Pastrana’s ex-employees says the alleged boiler room mogul would have been among those caught in that Hong Kong raid had he not gone to the toilet just minutes before the police arrived. According to the former employee, Pastrana had even left his laptop and coat at the hotel lounge. Pastrana is said to have avoided alerting Hong Kong authorities about his departure for the Philippines by renting a private yacht for P10 million and using this for his trip home.

Some observers speculate that the Filipinos would not have had the need to be in Hong Kong had the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas allowed Pastrana to keep the small Imus, Cavite-based thrift bank he bought two years ago. Although Pastrana’s income tax returns for 1997 to 1999 showed he had "limited sources of income," the Bangko Sentral still concluded that he was "capable of investing" in the Northpoint Development Bank based on his declared assets and liabilities as of March 2000.

But a "tip" from the banking industry that Pastrana and one of the bank’s new directors, Rufina Abad, had an ongoing securities fraud case with the SEC prompted Central Bank authorities to dig deeper.

Asked to explain these reports, the thrift bank, then already run by Pastrana, submitted a photocopy of an SEC order exonerating him and Abad from the criminal case involving an alleged boiler room, the First Federal Capital Inc. Upon verification with the SEC, the Central Bank discovered it had been given a forged document, as the SEC investigation into First Federal and Pastrana’s other companies was still ongoing at the time. Because of this, coupled with reports that he was engaged in "nefarious activities," the Central Bank rejected the sale of Northpoint to Pastrana.

Carmelita Climente, who has been president of Northpoint since its inception as a thrift bank in 1996, says businessman William Hernandez bought it from Pastrana last December. She says the new owner does not have links with Pastrana, and that the two have yet to meet in person.

Climente denies having any knowledge of Pastrana’s alleged boiler room operations. She says, "My only connection with him was through the bank. (When Pastrana left the bank,) I offered to resign but the Central Bank told me to stay out and run it."

Climente admits, however, that Pastrana once tapped her as a consultant in setting up an investment house that would sell nonconvertible preferred shares to foreigners – which the SEC does not allow. She says nothing happened of the plans because "I was not for it."

According to Climente, Pastrana had envisioned Northpoint to be a "technology bank" that would cater to the ATM needs of small banks. A prospectus of AAP Management, Inc. – Pastrana’s flagship company – given to clients does say that what Pastrana had renamed as United Resources Bank (URB) "will be positioned as a full-technology bank that will capitalize on its relationship with Infoserve Inc., a leading software developer for the banking industry." (Infoserve is not a Pastrana company.)

But the same prospectus indicates that Pastrana had more ambitious plans for the bank in which he had agreed to put in a fresh P400-million equity in December 1999. In truth, it maps out Pastrana’s plans to transfer URB’s head office from Cavite to Makati and then set up a branch in Ortigas Center, where most of his companies are located. By pumping in more cash and merging it with more banks, URB was envisioned to grow into a full-fledged commercial bank with a license to offer trust and foreign currency deposit products, hence freely catering to clients across borders.

A former Pastrana employee says URB was supposed to take care of all the banking needs of Pastrana’s companies, including the alleged boiler rooms, instead of giving out the business to other private banks. But lawyer Rodolfo Pineda, who was president of URB when it was still under Pastrana, denies knowing about any plans that would have the bank becoming a depository of any boiler room. Pineda says aside from incorporating some of Pastrana’s companies, he merely helped Pastrana look for a bank to acquire.

"When I met him, he said he made money from investing in the NASDAQ," says Pineda. "I didn’t realize it was illegal until I heard about it in the news."

Reports in the Austrian media, as well as in the Internet, reveal that Northpoint was not the only bank Pastrana had bought. These reports say Pastrana was part of a group that had bought WMP Bank AG in Vienna in November 2000.

In August last year, newspapers in Vienna reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had started to look into "a gang of worldwide active financial artists who allegedly bilked a gigantic 15 billion Austrian schillings (US$1 billion) from clients." This syndicate turned out to be the new owner of WMG Bank AG – then already renamed General Commerce Bank (GCB).

Internet reports then said that the bank had been converted into a brokerage house that had become the nerve center of the "large-scale scam." Citing an FBI dossier, the reports said the "perpetrators" of the scam were "Manila- and Los Angeles-based Amador A. Pastrana, the "mastermind of the operations" and US citizens Regis Possino and Sherman Mazur, as well as prominent Saudi arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi.

Two months later, the Banking and Finance Commission of Belgium issued a public warning against the bank, which it said was offering investment instruments to Belgian and foreigners without a license. Various media reports say Austrian police raided the bank, which has since been closed.

The reports had securities regulators in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand scrambling to include GCB in its blacklist of boiler rooms and warning investors not to deal with the bank.

Oddly enough, the Viennese bank to this day maintains a website despite the reported FBI probe and the international blacklist. At its website, www.gcbankag.com, the bank claims to have been in operation for more than 10 years now, and trading on the Vienna Stock Exchange. It even recommends investors to buy shares of Thaon Communications, Inc., an obscure company trading for a fraction of a penny on the OTCBB of the US NASDAQ.


UR Capital (one of Amador Pastrana's fronts). Leo Tan is a personal high school buddy of Amador and was put on the Berten USA board to represent Pastrana's interest.


The Belgian Raoul Berthaumieu who grew up in Canada appeared as the new chairman of the banking corporation which is working with a restricted banking license as broker house: In turn, Berthaumieus particular contacts to glowing con artists resulted in a new shareholder for the bank: the legendary arabian arms dealer Adnan Kashoggi."

The FBI are after a gang of worldwide active financial artists who allegedly bilked gigantic 15 Billion ATS (1 Billion USD) from clients. Since last Autumn, the instigators of the gang own a banking corporation in Vienna.

Behind the facades of the small "General Commerce Bank AG" which operated under federal administration since last year [the police] believe to find certain information about a large scale scam. Two weeks ago the US federal police has discovered the scandal after having conducted investigations for more than one year and through infiltration of undercover agents.

The FBI report in which the shocking dimensions of the deals are described: It lists the names of 18 Boiler rooms, reaching from the Philippines over Thai to Singapore and Czechia, in which the gang has cashed in the amazing sum of 1 Billion Dollars.

For the Austrians it is very revealing what the FBI dossier says about the perpetrators of the affair: In the organisation hierarchy ranked behind Manila and Los Angeles based Amador Pastrana, the "mastermind of the operations" according to the FBI are the US citizens Regis Possino and Sherman Mazur. 52-year old Possino appeared in Vienna last summer for the first time where he resided in an "approbiate" luxury flat in Radisson SAS Palais (Rent: 62.500 ATS)


 

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