Synagogue Renovation Project Scammed out of $437K

The scam was done through a series of phone calls and emails.

The Mazsihisz Jewish Federation, regarded as the biggest Jewish group in Hungary, lost the U.S. dollar equivalent of $437,000, the amount earmarked for the renovation of Rumbach Street Synagogue. The fraud happened in January through several emails and phone calls made by unidentified individuals. The criminals targeted employees of the federation.

The scammers convinced two employees of the Mazsihisz Jewish Federation to switch a contractor's bank account number. The contractor was engaged to renovate the synagogue. Mazsihisz then wired about 122 million Hungarian forints to the false account. The forint is Hungarian currency. Criminals then quickly withdrew the money in cash and vanished. The Hungarian police subsequently notified Mazsihisz of the crime. The matter is now under investigation. The two employees who facilitated the scam were sacked from employment. Both were employed as office administrators.

An internal probe within the Mazsihisz Jewish Federation found out that the organization has fallen victim to a fraud which has its origins from outside. It also admitted that no employee of the organization, including the two who were sacked, were perpetrators or helped in the criminal activity. The fired employees, however, have committed errors. The federation however said that police is continuing their investigation and new facts could come to light.

The Figyelo magazine, a Hungarian publication with a right-wing tilt and a supporter of Hungary’s present right-wing government, published in November an article which mentioned Mazsihisz’s faulty accounting practices when it came to renovating the Rumbach Street Synagogue work. The article prominently featured Andras Heisler, the president of Mazsihisz Jewish Federation, amidst a shower of about 20,000 bills of Hungarian currency. Heisler shot back, saying that the image is clearly anti-Semitic.

Figyelo accused Heisler and also Mazsihisz of a number of accounting irregularities when it came to funding the organization by the state. The Hungarian Government funded not only the renovation of the synagogue but also a museum dedicated to Jews. According to the federation, the photograph replenishes the stereotying of the Jewish community. The statement went on to say that it is a “deliberate character assassination” and this is the first time in so many years that the picture which incites action against a religious leader has been printed without any kind of factual basis. A spokesperson for the Mazsihisz Jewish Federation said that it was not possible to say exactly how renovations could be affected by the incident.

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