A married couple fighting extradition to Hungary over allegations that they scammed pensioners in a £3m ‘grandparent’ fraud claim they would face prejudice there because of their Roma ethnicity.
Erno Horvath, 41, and his wife Marina Horvath, 32, are accused of tricking elderly people into handing over cash by telling them their relatives had been in a car crash.
It is claimed 220 victims, aged between 70 and 96, were convinced that their loved ones needed help paying damages or had been injured.
Erno Horvath, 41, left, and his wife Marina , 32, right, are accused of tricking elderly people into handing over cash by telling them their relatives had been in a car crash. They are fighting extradition attempts to bring them back to Hungary
The pair were allegedly ‘at the top’ of a fraud ring, calling pensioners and hiring recruits to wait outside the victims’ homes and demand money once the conversation ended.
They are fighting extradition to Hungary where they would face up to a decade behind bars if convicted of the alleged con which took place between January and July 2019.
Fugitive Erno is accused of masterminding the scam while he was wanted for four unrelated convictions, He had fled the eastern European country and was sentenced in his absence.
The total amount of jail time he has yet to serve is seven years and eight months, Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard today.
A second married couple Maria Lakatos, 41, and Csaba Nemeth, 42, are also wanted in Hungary for their alleged involvement in the con.
Prosecutor Amanda Bostock said: ‘There’s a large-scale conspiracy in Hungary that has been taking place to defraud elderly victims. The Hungarian authorities term them grandchild frauds.
‘An elderly person is contacted by these alleged persons and others in the UK. They are told their relative, usually a grandchild, has been involved in a car accident and that they need money urgently to resolve an incident.
A second married couple, Maria Lakatos, 41, and Csaba Nemeth, 42, are also wanted in Hungary for their alleged involvement in the con
‘In some cases it’s that they will be injured if the money isn’t paid.’
‘There’s currently 220 victims aged between 70 and 96.
‘There’s a hierarchy in which these alleged persons are said to be at the top in that they make the phone calls, recruited lower individuals who wait outside the property of the person being contacted so that as soon as they make the phone call the money is collected – usually jewellery – before they have time to check with their grandchild the real situation.
‘£500,000 has been taken from these victims but several attempts have been made so the total loss is much higher and the damages are significant.’
The court heard Marina faces 12 counts of fraud and one count of laundering £7,200 – lesser charges than her spouse, who stands accused of founding the ring.
The mother-of-three is currently on bail while her husband Erno, who is charged with 32 counts of fraud, is remanded into custody.
Erno appeared in the dock today wearing a grey prison tracksuit while his wife sat in the well of the court wearing a studded leather jacket.
The two couples are fighting extradition to Hungary at Westminster Magistrates’ Court
Their lawyers are arguing that ‘appalling levels of discrimination’ against the Roma community – to which the suspects belong – within the eastern European state would prejudice their trial.
Malcolm Hawkes, defending Erno Horvath, said anti-Roma hate goes to the highest echelons of Hungarian society, including comments made by PM Viktor Orban and ‘gossip of judges… of ‘dirty gypsies’.
A suspect’s extradition can be barred if the court finds they might be prejudiced at their trial or punished by reason of their race, religion, nationality, gender, sexuality and political views.
Mr Hawkes said: ‘Individuals [in Hungary] are prejudiced on account of race.. It’s a reasonable chance or serious possibility of that prejudice being manifested.
‘We have a weighty and persuasive volume of evidence that quite appalling and quite shocking levels of discrimination that have persisted over many years, persist even today, in all spheres of life.
‘Notwithstanding this gross discrimination against Roma, that their children are “mentally retarded”, that half of Roma don’t even have running water in their home, but that the criminal justice system is an oasis of propriety where the discrimination evaporates, I submit that’s clearly not true.
‘[There is] the gossip of judges behind closed doors of quote “dirty gypsies” and the whispering that goes on, and comments from the Prime Minister of Hungary encouraging discrimination, speaking about Roma.’
Graham Hall, defending Marina Horvath, added that the couple could be forced to wait three years for their trial to start due to delays in the Hungarian criminal justice system.
Mr Hall argued the mother was the ‘sole carer’ of a toddler and faced the prospect of being remanded into custody once extradited.
He said: ‘From Ms Horvath’s perspective…[the same two issues] apply. The additional points which are raised on behalf of Ms Horvath relate to delay, both under pre-trial delay and the right to a trial within a reasonable period of time… There is endemic and extensive pre-trial delay [in Hungary]..’
Both defence teams are also arguing that prison conditions in Hungary would breach the couple’s human rights under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).
Erno, from Sheffield, faces 32 counts of fraud, while Marina, of the same address, faces 12 counts of fraud and one count of money laundering.
The extradition hearing continues.