Portuguese official disappears with Jewish heritage money


(JTA) — Police in Portugal are searching for a local politician whom they suspect fled the country after pocketing $130,000 earmarked for developing Jewish heritage sites.

Marco Baptista, who represents the Social Democratic Party in the eastern town of Covilha, dropped off the radar earlier this month after the money was transferred from the regional government’s office for the development of Jewish heritage sites to his personal account based on documents that contained forgeries of signatures by other officials, the Correio da Manhã reported last week.

The money came from Portugal’s Rede de Judiarias, a national network of sites connected to the Jewish population that had lived in Portugal before the adoption in the 16th century by the royal house of the Inquisition – a church-led campaign of persecution of Jews and other non-Christians. Baptista was a consultant for the Rede de Judiarias.

Shortly after the money was transferred last month, the modem, router and a computer of the Rede de Judiarias’ office in the nearby town of Belmonte  went missing, leaving the institution without online access to its bank accounts and official correspondence. Technicians replaced the missing gear three days later — by which time both Baptista, 41, and the money were gone.

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Relatives of Baptista offered to repay the money he is believed to have stolen and are cooperating with police’s attempts to locate him, the ZAP news agency reported, as prosecutors prepare an indictment for fraud and theft.

Rabbi Elisha Salas, who is based in Belmonte and is consulted regularly on commemoration projects, told Jornal do Fundao that the Rede de Juderias, which has so far declined to comment publicly on the affair, must divulge “the whole truth” about it.

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