Hungary remains a ripe market for miracle cures and pyramid schemes

The organizers of pyramid schemes selling natural and homeopathic ‘cures’ are thriving in Hungary, despite being exposed as essentially snake oil peddlers. They attract desperately ill people, who go to them as a last resort. One such scheme recently crumbled in a spectacular fashion, but the authorities were too late to prevent those who had joined the pyramid from losing their investments.

Dr Szabolcs Ládi portrayed himself as an internationally renowned expert on alternative medicine, despite having only basic credentials and a certificate in homeopathy. He established himself as a leading advocate of B17 or Amigdalina, an organic substance that has been found to be neutral, toxic or a miracle cure – depending entirely on whom you ask. Ládi sold the substance in packages that often racked up prices reaching thousands of euros, targeting mostly cancer patients who could not find satisfactory results from hospital treatment or who had given up altogether.

B17 took off as a cancer treatment in the 1950s following the work of Ernest Krebs.  By the end of the ‘70s some 70,000 people in the Unites States had received treatment. While there has never been a single credible study to confirm the medicinal effects of the product, that did not stop Krebs and his partner from selling it with a hefty margin, making millions of dollars in the process.

All that came to an end when B17 was eventually banned in the States under suspicion that it was toxic. As Hungarian regulation is normally slower to respond to such findings, it meant that Ládi was free to sell the products and make unsubstantiated claims about them. B17 became so popular that several celebrities used it, including a popular comedian Imre Bajor, who recently died from a brain tumor.

Ládi’s firm, Organic Mission (OM), operated a multi-level-marketing scheme for selling a variety of supposedly medicinal products. In its launch year, 2009, it produced revenues of HUF 320 million (€1.1 million), rising to HUF 2 billion (€6.5 million) three years later. By all accounts, a highly successful company. All looked good until late 2012, when Ládi announced that he was pulling out from his stake in the firm, which was already starting to collapse. The regulator was late to act: although it fined OM HUF 100 million (€322,000), by the time the audit was completed the firm was months into insolvency, leaving small investors running after their money.

OM’s rise to short-lived fame had all the signs of a pyramid scheme, with those close to the top having lavish stories to tell to convince others to join at the bottom.  Stories that were told while parading their glamor at fancy events, featuring celebrities who had also been enticed into the scheme.

Although he was the face of the firm, the extent of Dr Ládi’s role in the story is unclear. It is a fact that the company he set up and eventually quit – just in time – made fortunes from selling potentially poisonous miracle cures as well as conning numerous small investors. He is still practicing medicine and is still recommending the products that OM used to distribute, though B17 is apparently no longer for sale. Atlatszo.hu reached out to Dr Ládi for an explanation about the B17 story, but received no response of any merit.