VIP financial consultant disappears along with €20 million euros of client money

As if the financial horror stories of BES and Novo Banco were not enough, we now have a new drama playing out in Lisbon involving a ‘gamblaholic’ financial consultant for Best Bank (owned by Novo Banco) who has allegedly disappeared along with €20 million euros of her VIP clients’ money.

One family in the well-heeled district of Negrais, in Sintra, is believed to have lost as much as €5 million, while around 20 others are claiming losses that mount up to €20 million.

Carrying the story this morning, tabloid Correio da Manhã explains that the missing consultant, Ana Mafalda Prazeres, is the great-niece of military legend António de Spínola – Portugal’s first president after the Carnation Revolution which took place 42 years ago today.

Thus the exposé is doubly poignant – not least because it appears Ms Prazeres may be long gone.

She stopped “attending phone calls” from worried investors at the beginning of this month, says CM, and her luxury offices in Lisbon’s Rua do Castilho have not seen hide nor hair of her for weeks.

PJ police keen to speak to her over “suspicions of abuse of confidence, qualified fraud, falsification of documents” and other crimes are said to be “aware of the danger that she might flee”, either to Mozambique – where Prazeres enjoys dual-nationality and has lived before – or to Brazil.

For the moment, she is not reported to be at her home in Laranjeiras, but as she has been the subject of police surveillance there is the possibility that she may still be in the country.

According to CM, the “gigantic dimension” of this latest pyramid fraud only came to light on April 6.

Well-connected socially, Prazeres is understood to have created friendships with the majority of her victims, encouraging them into high-interest paying investment schemes which she purported to be running out of the superlative subsidiary of the so-called good bank.

For the first few years things appeared to be going perfectly well. CM explains this is because Prazeres was using one client’s money to pay the interest due to another.

She reeled clients in, offering them as much as 10% interest on their money per month, the paper adds. At the same time, she was feeding a gambling habit “to the tune of up to €15,000 a night”.

Her alleged fraud began unravelling in January after she had persuaded clients that she was moving their accounts from Best to Deutsche Bank.

“She convinced her victims to give her their fortunes to open accounts at Deutsche Bank and desposit their money. But it all disappeared”, explains CM. “The money never arrived at the German bank”.

Meantime, investors’ attempts to win compensation from Best have been rejected as the bank claims to have “detected no irregularities”.

“The (clients’) accounts just show movements regulated by their respective holders”, the bank has told CM. “This group of clients always received monthly bank statements and there were never any complaints”.

Where this story goes next depends very much on whether police can track Prazeres down.

She is understood to have suffered an ‘indisposition’ earlier this month that caused her to be interned at Lisbon’s CUF hospital.

CM suggests the illness was brought on by stress as the net tightened around her business dealings, particularly as she is also understood to owe casino loan sharks for funds extended to her during nights at the slot machines in fancy Estoril.

Thus it remains to be seen who gets to Prazeres first: the police, damaged clients or “groups of money lenders”, the paper concludes.

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