Scammers steal $437k from Hungarian Jews’ synagogue renovation project

Scammers steal $437k from Hungarian Jews’ synagogue renovation project

Suspects convinced two employees of the Mazsihisz Jewish federation to wire government-awarded funds to a fake account

The Rumbach Street Synagogue (CC BY-SA Thaler Tamas/Wikimedia Commons)
The Rumbach Street Synagogue (CC BY-SA Thaler Tamas/Wikimedia Commons)

JTA — Scammers stole from Hungary’s largest Jewish group the equivalent of $437,000, which the government had given for the renovation of a synagogue in Budapest.

The fraud took place last month in several phone calls and emails to employees of the Mazsihisz Jewish federation by unidentified individuals, according to an internal Mazsihisz report from Jan. 24 that was obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The suspects convinced two employees to switch the bank account numbers of a contractor working for Mazsihisz on the renovation of the Rumbach Street Synagogue. Mazsihisz wired 122 million Hungarian forints to the wrong account.

The money was quickly withdrawn in cash and vanished, the report said. Police, which notified Mazsihisz of the theft, are investigating it.

The two employees, who work as office administrators at Mazsihisz, were fired, the report said.

“It is the basic premise of the present investigation that Mazsihisz became the victim of an externally induced fraud, the employees of the organization are not perpetrators or co-perpetrators,” the internal probe said. But Mazsihisz employees did commit “errors,” the document also stated.

But, it added, “the Police investigation may change what we know fundamentally.”

In November, the Figyelo magazine, which is generally supportive of the policies of Hungary’s rightwing government, published an article about allegedly faulty accountability at Mazsihisz, also regarding the Rumbach synagogue project. The article featured an illustrative photo of Mazsihisz President Andras Heisler amid money bills. He called it an anti-Semitic image.

A Mazsihisz spokesman told JTA that he could not immediately say how the incident would affect renovations.

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