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Sonja Kohn was born to Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe. She grew up in Vienna in a small Jewish community. In the 1970s, with her husband Erwin Kohn, she started an import-export business and moved to Milan, Italy.
In 1994 she founded the Bank Medici in Vienna. One year later, she moved to New York. They lived in Monsey, a large, ultraorthodox Jewish community. Increasingly orthodox, she covered her hair as is customary for traditionally orthodox women. The Kohns founded a small brokerage firm, the Eurovaleur Inc. In New York City she became known as “Austria’s woman on Wall Street.” Kohn only got into investing after staying home to raise her five children.
In 1990s, they moved back to Vienna. There, she cooperated with Gerhard Randa of Bank Austria. The Bank Medici was relaunched in 2003 as an Aktiengesellschaft. Sonja is shareholder of 75 percent and is head of the bank's supervising board. She also was consultant of the Vienna Stock Exchange until 2006 and was member of the supervisory board of Italian Finlombardia bank.
The Bank Medici directed funds from investors to Bernard Madoff. For example, Bank Medici was Thema Fund's investment manager. In returning for finding investors, Bank Medici collected fees of 4.6 million euros from Thema International Fund in 2007.
Kohn kept a low profile after the disclosure of the securities fraud conducted by Madoff either to hide from unhappy clients, or from embarrassment at being involved in the affair, or worse. She said in an e-mail dated 14 January 2009, to Bloomberg News, that she was not an accomplice with, but as deceived by the “Madoff fraud” as anyone else. Madoff wasn’t a friend and didn’t confide in her, she wrote. She denies participating in a “fraud that destroyed lives, life savings and companies.” Following this, Bank Medici has decided on 19 March 2009 to wind down all banking business and to relinquish the banking license. On 10 December 2010, Kohn was sued by Irving H. Picard, trustee of assets seized by the court from Bernard Madoff, for $19.6 billion. Picard claims that she funneled 'billions' of investor dollars to Madoff in return for $62 million in kickbacks; this is one of dozens of lawsuits filed against Madoff investors and alleged collaborators before the two-year statute of limitations required by US civil code ran out on 11 December 2010.
A British High Court judge in November 2013 dismissed all claims against Kohn filed by liquidators of Madoff Securities International Ltd., based in London. The judge criticized the way the case had been pursued, while praising the "dignity" and "restraint" of Kohn. "This unfounded claim ... has been pursued aggressively and relentlessly over several years, on occasion with an unfair degree of hyperbole," he said, adding that Kohn had suffered "poisonous press releases" by the trustee of Madoff's U.S. business.
- Wirtschaftsblatt (04.11.2004): Zur Person – Sonja Kohn (viewed on 22nd March 2009)
- Groendahl, Boris (12 March 2009). "Austria's Madoff-hit Bank Medici seeks buyers". Reuters. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
- Schneeweiss, Zoe (31 December 2008). "Bank Medici Manages Up to $3.2 Billion of Assets Tied to Madoff". Bloomberg. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
- New York Times
- BANK MEDICI Statements until 19 March 2009
- HENRIQUES, DIANA (10 December 2010). "Madoff Trustee Seeks $19.6 Billion From Austrian Banker". nytimes.com. Retrieved 10 December 2010.