“Edmond Safra! Safra was the owner of the Republic National Bank of New York, and his name was like gold,” claims Bill Browder in ‘Red Notice’, a fictional autobiography. “If Edmond Safra was willing to join this venture, it would be like winning the lottery.”
In 1989, Forbes magazine branded the Vancouver Stock Exchange “Scam Capital of the World.” Intense media glare on VSE-centric chicanery helped drive swindlers southward and due east to score their jackpots. (On November 29, 1999 the scandal-ridden VSE was shuttered.) Corrupt “venture capital” schemes, once the stock-in-trade of British Columbia’s marketplace, over the final decade of the 20th century brought notoriety to players in provinces of Alberta, Ontario and beyond.
Cycomm launched in 1986 on the Alberta Stock Exchange (ASE) as Sonartec North America Inc. (before changing its name to Sonatel Telecommunications Corp. and then Cycomm). A perennial money-loser and operational failure, Cycomm continually exaggerated and misrepresented the status and saleability of its “products”.
During 1986/87 it pitched allure of an air-propelled, ropeless, floatless, crab-pot (or trap) – a device to catch up to 900 pounds of marketable seafood per hour as it rose from the ocean’s depths. This would-be marine marvel, (or, at least, sketches of it), came to the Canadian stock-play by way of Robert Paul Martin, director of Sonartec Ltd. – a related entity listed on Australia’s exchange.
In July 1986, as Sonartec N.A. (Cycomm) was being floated in Canada, investigation ‘down under’ discovered serious problems endangering the Western Australia Teachers’ Credit Society. By 1987, a major political scandal erupted around it and several other Oz institutions+. In July ’87 Martin was charged with bribing a public servant, Len Brush, Chairman of WA’s State Superannuation Board. Found not guilty of paying off the pension fund manager, post-trial Robert Martin was charged with illegally tapping telephone lines of witnesses in the court case. Convicted of phone-bugging the stock-dealing crab-pot visionary went to jail in 1989.
As well, in 1988/89 trading in the Alberta-listed stock by a London-based “bucket shop”, T.C. Coombs & Co., warrranted attention of securities investigators in Canada and the U.K. In 1991 British authorities shut down T.C. Coombs which had been dealing in various dodgy shares across Canada, Europe and Australia.
Turbulence aside, Cycomm’s Canadian stock promotion sailed forth under a succession of corporate flags – heralding claims about, and touting enormous sales potential for, products that never materialized. From 1987 – 1991, Cycomm hyped three products which did not even exist in commercially viable form: the AdZapper, a non-existent black box that promised commercial-free-television home videotaping; the AdSwapper, a larger, equally non-existent, form of the AdZapper; and the PL2000 (an illusory black box billed as capable of converting telephone party-lines into single-use lines).
The AdZapper, AdSwapper and PL2000 were all said by Cycomm to be the inventions of Dieter Blum, a “widely respected” engineer who had “obtained both a Bachelor of Science degree from Basel University, Switzerland and a Masters of Science degree in Electronic Engineering from Roosevelt University, Belgium.”
The company could now point to a successful invention – Dieter Blum’s credentials. Blum, a high school drop-out with a string of fraud-related criminal convictions to his name, was serving time in a Canadian penal institution on charges of false pretenses at the time Cycomm certified he was receiving his degrees. To note that Basel University did not offer a Bachelor of Science degree and, further, that there is no Roosevelt University in Belgium may, under the circumstances, be academic.
Republic National Bank of New York took down shares in two private placements – a tranche in late 1991, when the company was called Sonatel, and, again, in June 1992 once Cycomm was its handle. RNBoNY also appears alongside key Cycomm players as shareholder in a Tasmanian entity (explored in an upcoming part of this series). Ironically or not, Cycomm, in the wake of Robert Martin’s imprisonment for phone-hacking, shifted focus to promoting cellular voice privacy and encryption technologies.