Page last updated at 14:44 GMT, Monday, 9 March 2009

Swiss blackmail 'gigolo' jailed

Helg Sgarbi appears in court

A Swiss man has been jailed for six years for defrauding Germany's richest woman out of millions of euros and attempting to blackmail her.

Helg Sgarbi, dubbed the Swiss Gigolo by the media, was also convicted at his trial in Munich of similar scams against three other, unnamed women.

He extracted 7m euros ($8.8m; £6.4m) from BMW heiress Susanne Klatten.

He then sought to blackmail her by claiming to possess a tape of her having sex with him in a hotel room.

Special Swiss representative in crisis zones
How Helg Sgarbi described himself to the women he defrauded

Sgarbi, who apologised to his victims in court, has not said where the money he received is being kept or what happened to the alleged sex video.

He has also said nothing about Ernano Barreta, the man alleged to have been his accomplice, who is under investigation in Italy.

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Munich says there has been a huge amount of media attention on the trial, one of the most sensational in German judicial history.

Victim praised

The Munich state court found Sgarbi guilty of fraud valued at 9m euros and attempted blackmail.


Aged 44, born in Zurich.

Originally had the surname Russak.

First reported to the police in 2001 by an 83-year-old countess who had given him several million Euros.

Described by police as a smooth operator who knew how to win the trust of his victims.

Alleged to have connections with criminal gangs.

Described as a specialist in mergers and acquisitions in a glowing job reference from Credit Suisse, read out in court.

He is said to have not spoken about the cases since his arrest "out of respect to the ladies concerned".

None of his victims were in court.

Sgarbi committed blackmail, telling his victims he had "compromising material" on them, prosecution spokesman Anton Winkler told reporters.

"In one case he said the material was stolen from him by the Mafia and now the Mafia was asking for money, but later he asked directly for money," said Mr Winkler.

"In the second case he directly blackmailed his victim and told her that he had pictures. He told her: 'You pay or I go public with the pictures and your privacy.'"

Three of the women were referred to in the indictment by the initials H, S and R, to protect their identities, while Mrs Klatten gave permission for her name to be listed.

Prosecutor Thomas Steinkraus-Koch praised Mrs Klatten for her bravery in stepping forward.

"The only victim who came to us and gave a witness statement is Mrs Klatten," he said.

"We had to find the others, with great difficulty."

Photographers surrounded Sgarbi as he entered the courtroom, where he sat expressionless while the charges against him were read out.

Sgarbi's lawyer, Egon Geis, told the court the charges were "at their core, true" while Sgarbi himself said: "I deeply regret what has happened and apologise to the aggrieved ladies in this public hearing."

'Your risk is high'

Prosecutors say Sgarbi met Mrs Klatten, a married business tycoon who owns a 12.5% stake in BMW, in an Austrian spa resort in July 2007.

Susanne Klatten, file pic from 2003
Mrs Klatten was praised for her courage in testifying

In her witness statement, Mrs Klatten said he had been "charming, attentive and at the same time he seemed very sad".

"That stirred a feeling in me that we had something in common," she said.

They began an affair and in September that year, he persuaded Mrs Klatten to give him nearly 7m euros by saying he needed to pay off the family of a girl he had injured in car accident in Florida.

The reclusive 46-year-old mother-of-three handed the money to him in a cardboard box in the basement of a Holiday Inn hotel in Munich.

He later asked her to put a 290m euros in a trust fund for him, which he said would enable them to start a new life together, but she refused to do so.

Mrs Klatten said he then threatened to make public a tape he had secretly made of them having sex in a Munich hotel room if he did not receive another 49m euros, a figure he later reduced to 14m.

In a blackmail letter, he is reported to have told Mrs Klatten: "While your risk is very high, my risks are irrelevant."

Mrs Klatten was one of a string of Sgarbi's alleged victims across Europe, who included the wealthy Countess Verena du Pasquier-Geubels, reported to be around 50 years his senior.

He told the women he targeted he was a "special Swiss representative in crisis zones", which accounted for his sudden disappearances.

The countess reported him to the police in 2001 but later dropped the charges and died the following year.

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