Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Americans’ life savings disappear from Mexican Monex bank

Monex Casa del Bolsa, aka Holding Monex, is a Mexican financial institution founded in 1985 which is one of the world’s largest providers of commercial foreign exchange.

On its website, Monex says it engages in both corporate and private banking, and boasts that it is "an institution formed by leading companies in financial and payment businesses, that provide services and specialized products in the national and international market in an innovative manner and with the highest ethical and quality standards."

With $5.2 billion in assets and operations in the U.S., Monex Casa del Bolsaalso provides banking services to foreigners visiting or doing business in Mexico, as well as many American expatriots living in Mexico. Mostly retirees, they have to navigate a society with fewer legal and financial protections than they’d get in the U.S.

Those Americans, however, recently discovered that the money in their Monex bank accounts has disappeared.

David Welch reports for Bloomberg, May 24, 2019, that "Americans say money they had at Monex is gone and the bank isn’t helping them."

Among those Americans are Kathy and Jim Machir, two of some 10,000 Americans who’d moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Last December, the Machirs called Marcela Zavala Taylor, their Monex banker of 9 years, to get cash for contractors building their retirement home in San Miguel de Allende, San Miguel, a city of 69,000 about 500 miles south of McAllen, Texas. But Zavala didn’t return calls, and the Machirs discovered that their nest egg was gone. Kathy Machir says: "When they told us we had 6 pesos [32¢] in our accounts, I just felt sick to my stomach. Since then, they have not dealt with us in good faith."

Zavala is local royalty: daughter of former Mayor Manuel Zavala and his Texas-born wife, Peggy Taylor, an agent for Christie’s International Real Estate. Zavala has worked for Monex about 20 years, and became San Miguel’s banker of choice by winning over expats with promises of fat returns on accounts she claimed were dollar-denominated and immune to the peso’s fluctuations.

In early January, Monex officials told the Machirs and other San Miguel expatriates that about $40 million was missing from as many as 158 accounts, many belonging to English-speaking Americans.

A dozen people interviewed by Bloomberg News say that bank statementsZavala sent them purporting to show full accounts were apparently falsified. Most say the bank has told them little since they filed complaints, and some say Monex tried to settle for far less than the balances owed.

Kevin Carr, founder of financial technology firm Finiden in Washington, D.C., and formerly the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s primary representative in Mexico, says fraud is becoming more common. According to Condusef, Mexico’s consumer protection agency, last year there were 7.3 million complaints of fraud involving 18.9 billion pesos, about $1 billion — more than double the number of claims in 2014. Carr says "Mexican authorities try to prosecute these cases but often aren’t successful."

Monex spokeswoman Eva Gutierrez said in a press release last Thursday that the bank is working with clients and has settled with 70%. Some clients interviewed by Bloomberg News who settled for reimbursement say Monex required them to file charges with the Procuraduria General de Justicia, the equivalent of an Attorney General’s Office, in Mexico City, where the bank is headquartered, and to name Zavala.

Monex said in a statement that it’s looking into accusations against Zavala: "Legal action is continuing in the case, and details cannot be disclosed so as not to hinder the investigation." But Zavala hasn’t been charged, and declined to comment: "By instruction of my lawyers I cannot say anything. Goodbye." Zavala’s mother claims her daughter is taking the fall.

Other Americans and foreigners whose Monex bank accounts were emptied include:

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•Kenneth Karger, a retired dentist in Fort Worth with property in Mexico, says he stopped getting full statements from Monex after last June. Later, Karger went through statements he retrieved from Monex and found unauthorized withdrawals and wire transfers. In all, Monex owes him about $400,000. A notarized letter that Karger’s attorney sent to top Monex executives on April 15 lists 12 allegations of fraud, including transferring money to people whom the depositors didn’t know, making unauthorized investments, and changing account login information.

•Howard Haynes, 83, moved to San Miguel 22 years ago from Kansas City, Mo. After Zavala stopped returning his calls in December, Monex told Haynes his account, which Zavala had said held a substantial sum, had less than $13,000. Haynes says almost all of his money were transferred — without his authorization — to people he didn’t know, to a new Monex account. Then the money disappeared. Monex says it owes him only the money currently in the account.

•Alysann Posner, a former vice president of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange who lives in San Miguel, says she had trouble getting timely statements from Monex since she opened her account four years ago. On Dec. 18 she tried to transfer her funds to another bank, but was told the account and that of her 86-year-old mother were reduced to almost nothing. Monex has offered her about 60% of what she believes she is owed and she’s suing Monex in Mexican courts.

•Cory Gray, 86, says she opened a Monex account six years ago and recently had a tough time getting regular statements. She last heard from Zavala on Dec. 18 and was later told by Monex that she has next to nothing in her account. Monex offered her 70¢ on the dollar. She took it, afraid that fighting Monex would leave her with nothing.

•Bruce Brown, a retired sound engineer from Australia, says he got his full $250,000 back after filing a complaint against Zavala with the Procuraduria General de Justicia. But after Brown got his check, a Monex representative called, said the bank had overpaid, and asked for $50,000. "I told them to shove it," Brown says.

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