1. Who is Mayer Mizrachi, what is his background?
Depends who you ask. The Panamanian government would have you believe I’m a criminal mastermind. Ask anyone else that knows about me and they’ll say I’m a successful tech entrepreneur (although, I’d disagree with the word successful). I would say I’m merely a nerd trying to make a dent in the world of technology. I was born and raised in Panama with my father being Panamanian and my mother being Jamaican. I spent my teen years in London battling a unique case of Vasculitis, a terminal autoimmune disease found only in elderly men. Once getting over that bout I headed to Washington DC where I studied finance at American University.
That’s where the startup bug bit me.
2. What is Criptext?
Criptext is a Gmail extension that enables powerful security and control features across your Gmail experience. It lets you send encrypted emails to anyone. Most notably though, Criptext lets you unsend emails, even after they’ve been read. We launched this product on 2015 and it’s done really well, but there are certain limitations in the Gmail ecosystem which restrain us from broadening our security features. This is why we’ve been working on something very, very special since last year. The extension has been now rebranded to Criptext for Gmail, setting the stage for the new Criptext to be launched this summer. I can’t give you more details, thought…
3. For those who use Gmail and are concerned about their privacy why is a must have?
Gmail reads all your emails. All of them. OK? That’s Google’s business: amassing user data in order to sell ads. If privacy matters to you then Criptext is and awesome tool to protect your data from Google’s prying eyes. Beyond that, Criptext is awesome for those who seek more control over their email activity: it lets you set expiration timers, unsend emails even if they’ve been read and send encrypted attachments. It’s pretty useful.
4. Can you explain in detail, why were you held for 6 months in a Colombian prison and in the meantime cannot leave Panama?
Well, it’s a lot simpler than what the media would have you believe. In 2013 the Panamanian Government came to me requesting that Criptext provide them with a secure messaging network just for them. The value of the contract was $200k and we would custom build the app for them. In April 2014 we signed on the contract and delivered the software. The procurement department of the state verified that indeed the software was delivered so they proceeded to pay us the $200k. Everything went well and the state was satisfied with the software. Then came in the new government in July 2014, which was headed by archrival and ex-Vice president Varela. I don’t play politics so I was agnostic to this, but boy was I wrong. Since they came into office daily active use of the Criptext secure messaging platform plummeted to 0, so I reached out to the new Minister of Technology, Irving Halman. Upon meeting him for the first and only time I realized this guy was a Neanderthal and had no clue what the difference between a bit and a byte was –clearly a paper pusher. Despite my meeting and pushing for the continuity of the previous government with the Criptext platform, they never used the software again. I emailed him 9 times and only got 4 replies with less than 25 words combined. This guy clearly didn’t care for the software. I even offered them an olive branch telling them that, despite the contract was imminently ending, they could have an extra 6 months for free so long as they made use of the software we purposely built at their request.
January 2015 starts with a bang when, through the state sponsored “La Prensa” newspaper, I find out the Minister of Technology is suing me for not delivering on the contract. At this point I laughed hysterically for two main reasons: First, I had all the data to prove that not only did we delivered but that they even used it thoroughly with over 100 people within the government. Second, the contract was backed by an insurance policy in case we never delivered on our end and due process obligates the state to execute on the policy, which they didn’t. I was living in NYC at the time and this was when we had divested into building encryption for email. Fast forward to December 28, 2015 and I get stopped by immigration in Cartagena, Colombia when going for my new year’s vacation with friends. The officers claimed there was an Interpol red notice to my name, which sounded preposterous as red notices are reserved exclusively for terrorists, serial killers, crime lords and drug cartels — and I’m neither. Anyhow, I’m going to skip over the emotional bits, which you can imagine were very intense. 10 days into my detainment and a judge in Panama granted me bail for $100k, which we paid.
Nonetheless, the government of Panama twisted things to delay my release, which didn’t happen until 6 months after. Fast forward to 2017 and, after further investigation, the Interpol concluded that Panama provided false information which it denied to respond for in order to create the red notice. You can imagine how I felt when I learned this… Anyhow, what’s behind all of this is that they are going after my father for being the brother in law of Martinelli and, since they can’t get to him, they’ve resorted to persecuting me and using me as bait.
5. Why you still have to go to court if technical examination proves Criptext is innocent?
So the state department of forensic medicine already determined that Criptext did indeed deliver the contract. Beyond that it was able to even verify that the government even used the software. This totally tears apart all 3 cases that they brought against me. However, there is a process by which you take down a case with such overwhelming evidence and we must abide by it, unfortunately. This means that I have to wait for hearings to take place, which sucks because the government can flex its muscle and make the courts postpone the hearing dates. It’s beyond stupid — it’s politics in the tropics.
The reality behind it is that this case was clearly political and the government of Panama meddled so deep into it that after all the ruckus they caused they don’t want to lose. They’ll likely try to push everything so that the next government has to deal with my victory. As you can see, their interest is in prosecuting you, despite knowing their cases won’t hold up in court, because throughout the process the prosecutor can freeze your assets and/or send you to jail. They’re judge, jury and executioner.
6. Has this experience changed you? What are your learnings from this set back?
Undoubtedly. I think anyone that goes through a government persecution and/or an illegal imprisonment will grow in wisdom and maturity. Beyond anything, I think situations like these put one’s emotional intelligence to a test. Looking back at the road I’ve traveled these past 3 years, I’d say it hasn’t changed me so much so as accelerated me into mental/emotional maturity.
I’m conscious of my instincts now and have developed a fine tuned ability for reading people. I don’t second guess myself anymore, nor do I stutter when making decisions. You’ve got to understand, I come from having a severe case of impostor syndrome: a self-made illusion where you believe that your merits are not your own, but rather the result of external factors — basically, that you’re lucky. Well, things could’ve gone south real bad many times while I was stuck in Colombia’s biggest maximum-security prison for 6 months, but I handled myself well and do credit myself for it.
I think my biggest lesson was on how to deal with problems. You see, we all have problems: whether they’re legal, financial, marriage, family, emotional or health problems, they’re all problems. There’s no such thing as a life without problems.
Even for those who have it easy, they can easily see small things as big problems.
What sets us apart from each other is how we continue living and enjoying life in spite of the problems in our lives. No one could’ve blamed me for shutting down Criptext while I was in prison and focusing on resolving my legal battles, but I didn’t do that. Instead, I vouched to turn this impossible situation in our favor. We decided to take the app we sold to the government of Panama and launch it for free to the entire world. This got the attention of Tom Fox-Brewster at Forbes and his story not only unmasked the truth about what the government of Panama was doing, but got our company funded and saved it from an eventual shut down.
Meet The Entrepreneur Who Launched A WhatsApp Rival From A Colombian Prison
The view from Mayer Mizrachi Matalon's jail cell is a fine one; clumped red-brick houses, the undulating emerald fields…
7. You are a user of crypto or just a fan?
I’m a user, I guess. Today, Crypto is great tool for people suffering from FX volatility, and even government persecutions. However, most of the crypto activity today is fueled by speculation and hype. I got in in 2015 when the persecution against my company and I started. When the Gov started seizing assets I divested into BTC. The move paid off for me as otherwise I would’ve been destroyed, financially, but most people in crypto don’t have these problems.
8. Will crypto go mainstream?
Eventually. We’re in the early days of Crypto. It’s reminiscent of the internet in the 90’s: everyone knew that the technology would have a huge impact in the future, but it was too early for it to go mainstream. It’s very important people understand this because in the 90’s people we’re IPO’ing at the same rate that people are ICO’ing today. People were investing on anything with a “.com” in its name, and the behavior is similar today with crypto. I’m not yelling bubble, though; just remembering that there were Amazon’s back in the day as well as Pets.com’s — and we all know how that ended up.
9. What satisfies you the most in crypto?
I like the concept of decentralization, of course. The ‘unbanking’ of it all is very exciting. I’m also a big privacy geek so I appreciate the value of an untraceable transactions.
10. What you dislike the most in crypto?
The hype, the speculation around it. Also, the decentralization is conceptual since one still depends on third parties to validate transactions and manage keys. This later point bothers me a lot as the majority of people getting into crypto don’t properly understand cryptography. Key management is a point that rarely gets discussed. For example, Signal does this beautifully in Messaging via the Signal Protocol, which in my opinion is better than PGP. This is why I’ve gathered a lot of excitement from MobileCoin.
11. How to not fall victim of malware, or hackers?
It’s hard. They come in different ways, shapes and sizes. When it comes to communications, I suggest everyone to use hyper secure channels. Signal, for example has gained a lot of momentum this year in lieu of all the privacy breaches and PGP vulnerabilities that have been exposed.
12. Infosec recommendations specifically for crypto crowd?
Get an encrypted email address, seriously — especially if you’re a crypto company. Most people are just launching their ICO’s and hosting their company email on Gmail. Really? The road to mainstream for Crypto will inevitably lead to SEC and IRS and a secure communication channel between the user, coin, exchange and regulator will be key to solidifying its legitimacy, so get cracking on better email practices.
13. What are you currently working on and what are your plans for 2018 onwards?
Well, ironically, the persecution that I’ve lived through lead me to meet our new investor, Marina Acton, who ran into a story that Forbes published on me launching Criptext from prison. Since closing our seed round in November (notice it wasn’t an ICO) we’ve been working on something very, very special and unique that the crypto community will love. I can’t say much about it now, but we expect to be announcing the new Criptext in July.
14. What do you make of the current political situation in Panama, corruption, persecution, economy slowdown?
Well, I haven’t been politically/economically conscious in Panama for more than 4 years since before this presidency I’ve been living in the US, so it’s hard for me to unilaterally say “this has never happened before”. However, I have asked older, wiser people in Panama whether this is the same cycle that repeats itself every 5 years just that this time I’m a victim of it. They are adamantly certain that it’s not.
These past 4 years have been traitorous for all of Panama as it has become clear that this government can’t “shit and piss” at the same time. That is, they can’t persecute their political enemies and successfully run a country at the same time.
The result is that they’ve spread themselves so thin that they can’t to either well enough — laughable!
What’s true is that this government changed the game forever and has left a terrible precedent for the future political wars of which they will fall victims of. Never before have sons and daughters been fair play in the political wars. In fact, the narcos and the mafia have one rule: do what you must to your enemy, but only to your enemy — never mess with family. Such a creed makes the mafia look respectable compared to the Varela government. Ultimately, this government has stolen more and has done less than any other government in the country’s history.
Though this is something that is hard to prove today, the future will prove me right — I have no doubt.
15. What is your outlook for Panama for 2020?
It’s extremely positive. The change in government is key to jumpstart the economy and re-establish this country as the leading economy of Central America and the Caribbean. You have to understand that while there were some macroeconomic factors at play, most of Panama’s economic downturn is due to the poor governance by the Varela presidency. This is what led this presidency to be rated worst in Panama’s history and have the lowest approval rating with a dismal 33%. I think that with the right government in place we can also see the public sector embrace the counsel of private sector technologists who want to push for Panama’s broader embrace of Crypto-banking. For an economy that prides itself in its financial services industry, it’s the way to go.
Mayer saved his company and personal welfare by divesting into Bitcoin back then, and is fending off ongoing persecution and prosecution by Panamanian judiciary system who ignored every due process, violating his rights. This judiciary system and many governmental entities are mere puppets under current President.
What if Bitcoin wasn't there in 2015 when Mayer needed it? Probably Criptext would no longer be, he could still be held up in jail in a foreign country.
It gives me something to think about, why should we be at the mercy of unjust governments, our livelihoods at the hand of puppets of destruction?
What it takes to fix all this bullshit, corrupt governments? Maybe the answer to all our prayers for a transparent, incorruptible government it's already here with Bitcoin, and blockchain tech.
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