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Germany

Germany's Richest Woman Was the Wrong Victim for Extortionist

A Swiss gigolo was outdone by his latest victim and ex-lover, publicity-shy BMW heiress Susanne Klatten, who had him arrested and pressed charges in spite of the media glare into her private life.

Susanne Klatten, board director at BMW and Altana, at an annual general meeting of Altana

Susanne Klatten restricts public appearances to annual board meetings at BMW and Altana

By filing charges against a former lover, the publicity shy BMW heiress Susanne Klatten took a huge risk that her identity would be revealed, but now she's turning the tables on an extortionist who had betrayed her and countless other fabulously wealthy German, Austrian and Swiss women.

For the first time on Friday, Klatten, who virtually never gives interviews, spoke out publicly about the ordeal of her affair with the Swiss gigolo known as Helg S. The decision to press charges regardless of the public fall out became "a moment of clarity," for her, she told Financial Times Deutschland.

"You are a victim and you must protect yourself," she said she told herself. "I am (pressing charges) on behalf of all women in my family and in the name of many more women."

Hidden camera recorded hotel trysts

In the summer of 2007, Klatten, 46, fell under the spell of a suave 43-year-old Swiss gigolo known as Helg S., whom she met at a spa retreat in Tirol. Little did she know that her new lover had an Italian accomplice, Ernano B., who secretly filmed their trysts from a hotel room next door and would then use the footage to extort exorbitant sums of cash.

Since virtually all the women S. preyed on were terrified of being exposed, the ruse succeeded in generating millions of euros in hush money. Only last autumn, the criminal duo had the misfortune of picking the wrong victim who exposed them in return.

Panoramic view of the mountains of Tirol near Innsbruck

Last year's summer romance at a wellness spa in Tirol turned into a nightmare.

Susanne Klatten is the married mother of three teenagers and daughter of the late industrial scion Herbert Quandt, who had transformed a nearly bankrupt BMW into the automotive colossus it is today. She is also Germany's wealthiest woman and ranks 55th on the 2008 Forbes Magazine list of world billionaires with a net worth of $13.2 billion (10.5 billion euros) that includes a 12.5 percent stake in BMW.

Germany 's wealthiest woman

Klatten's fortune even surpasses that of her mother Johanna, who was Quandt's third wife and one-time secretary and her younger brother Stefan Quandt, a trained engineer. A hands-on business executive in her own right, Klatten, started out as an apprentice at BMW, where she worked under an assumed name and met her engineer husband of 18 years, Jan Klatten, who knew nothing of her background.

Black and white photo of Herbert Quandt and third wife Johanna taken in 1971

Klatten's father Herbert Quandt saved a bankrupt BMW

Now a board member of BMW, Klatten had also inherited half the shares of the chemical group Altana, where she is a director. Only last week, she made the news on the staid financial pages by lifting her Altana stake to 65 percent in the aftermath of the public disclosure of her affair with S. But the media was hardly interested in the news that Klatten plans to de-list Altana and eventually take full control of the company by buying out all remaining shares, since the Helg S. saga was so sensational.

In January this year, Klatten, who lives with her family in Munich's artsy Schwabing district, filed a complaint against Helg S.and Ernano B. in the Bavarian capital, but it was only in early November that her affair was finally revealed in painstaking detail and started making headlines in the German media.

Pressing charges in spite of publicity fall out

"Once Klatten realized that the relationship with Mr. S. was based on the criminal intent to betray her and extort money, she was determined to take action. She was fully aware that by pressing charges, she would face the unpleasant consequences of opening her (private life) to public scrutiny," said Joerg Appelhans, Klatten's personal spokesman in a statement issued to DW-WORLD.DE. Since the trial is imminent, Appelhans declined to confirm or deny details about the affair that have emerged in press reports.

In the exclusive Financial Times Deutschland interview, Klatten however was more forthcoming about the intense media exposure over the last three weeks.

"It hurts…One needs to have thick skin, which I don't have," she said. "I have to distance myself from it."

No regrets about decision

Today there are no regrets about the decision to turn in her blackmailer. The clandestine affair lasted for about two months, in which time S. had convinced Klatten to fork over 7.5 million euros in bundles of 200 euro notes with a sorry tale about being involved in a tragic traffic accident that involved the child of a mafia boss, who demanded a pay off. But S. got greedy, and demanded millions more. That was when light went on in Klatten's head and she abruptly ended the relationship.

Briefcase filled with euro notes

Helg S. thought Klatten would show up with cash, but she sent the police instead

Then Helg. S put his game plan into action and Klatten hired detectives to monitor telephone calls in which S. threatened to publicly release the intimate videotapes unless she paid up. In January, Klatten led him to believe that she was going to hand over another 14 million euros in hard cash at an autobahn parking lot near Innsbruck, but instead she sent a commando police force to arrest Helg S. who has been in held in detention in a Munich jail ever since and is now awaiting trial. Ernano B. is in custody in Italy.

"The case should be tried before Christmas", said Anton Winkler, a spokesman for the Munich state prosecutor's office, but could not elaborate on whether other plaintiffs have also filed similar charges against Helg S. or whether the hearings would be held in open court.

Klatten praised for courage

"In Germany, trials are open to the public," he said. "There would have to be a very special private reason for a closed session."

In the past, Klatten used to be media averse to the point of being reclusive, but that was already changing even before the Helg S. affair thrust her into the spotlight, according to Quandt family biographer Ruediger Jungbluth, who praised the manner Klatten has been handling the matter.

"We don't know yet how much pressure the extortionist put on her, but the decision to press charges with the risk of such media exposure shows enormous courage on her part," he said.

Klatten has also gotten plenty letters of support.

"From friends, colleagues, old classmates I haven't seen in 35 years. I'm very moved by it," she said to FTD, explaining "It hurts that I've always been judged by my wealth…I'd just be happy to be finally treated like a normal human being."

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