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Madoff Scandal Sends Sheytl-Wearing Banker Into Hiding

The New York Times has a profile one of the more fascinating and underreported characters in the Madoff scandal: Sonja Kohn.

Kohn was founder, chair, and 75% owner of Bank Medici, which has lost, at latest report, $3.2 billion in the alleged Madoff scam. The Austrian government subsequently took over management of the bank.

Though its name makes it sound like some fragmentary vestige of the financial empire of Florence’s famed Renaissance patrons, Bank Medici was actually founded by Kohn in 1994, and Kohn is no Medici. In fact, she’s a Viennese-born Jew who became a ba’al teshuva in the 1980s and lived in the heavily Orthodox town of Monsey, N.Y.

But the wildest part of the Times story is that Kohn has apparently gone into hiding. Why? Some of the money Kohn lost may have belonged to Russian oligarchs:

“With Russian oligarchs as clients,” said a Viennese banker who knew Mrs. Kohn and her husband socially, “she might have reason to be afraid.”

The Hebrew-language edition of Haaretz recently reported that Kohn and her husband regularly visited Israel and have an apartment in an upscale section of Jerusalem, and that Kohn had invested in a number of Israeli companies, including that of recently deceased industrial titan Benny Gaon.

I’m not exactly sure where she falls on the Orthodox spectrum. The Times describes her as ultra-Orthodox, apparently based on the fact that she wears a sheytl, or wig, and lives in Monsey. Monsey is actually home to both a declining Modern Orthodox population and a growing ultra-Orthodox population. The wig suggests she’s probably not Modern Orthodox, but high-flying women in the world of international finance are, indeed, anomalies in the ultra-Orthodox world.

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