Helg Sgarbi, the "Swiss Gigolo", pleaded guilty Monday to charges of blackmailing a string of super-rich women out of millions of euros as his trial got underway in the southern German city of Munich on Monday, March 9.
The con man confessed and now faces a stiff prison sentence
Sgarbi's surprise plea came at the start of a trial where four wealthy German women who say they were seduced and conned by the smooth-talking Swiss gigolo were expected to testify against him.
Sgarbi, 44, has been in custody since his arrest in Vomp, Austria last year. If convicted, the man who allegedly told his wealthy conquests he was a "special Swiss representative in crisis zones," faces a lengthy prison term. German law punishes serious fraud with up to 10 years' prison and blackmail with up to 15 years.
Susanne Klatten risked a lot when she went public with the affair
Sgarbi has been depicted in the media as a serial seducer who invented stories to persuade his victims to part with their fortunes.
He was indicted for serious fraud and faces two counts of blackmail. A man believed to be his accomplice was released from custody due to lack of evidence.
The Klatten connection
Among the witnesses will be Susanne Klatten, 46. The heiress to the Quandt empire, she has a large stake in the luxury car manufacturer BMW as well as the chemical company Altana.
Klatten, whose personal fortune exceeds $13 billion according to the Forbes Rich List, first met Sgarbi in 2007.
Their affair began a month later. By September, Sgarbi made his first request for money, allegedly telling the mother of three that he needed 7 million euros because he had injured a little girl in a car crash in Florida.
Klatten gave him the money, but ended the relationship not long after when Sgarbi asked her to set up a trust fund of 290 million euros to fund a new life for them together.
Sgarbi's haunts were the playgrounds of the very wealthy -- like Lake Geneva
According to prosecutors, he then turned nasty, threatening to send compromising video footage of the two together to the press and to her husband, among others. He demanded 49 million euros, which he subsequently reduced to 14 million euros, and set a deadline of Jan. 15 last year.
Klatten, at that point, had long since informed the police, and Sgarbi was arrested.
A long list of victims
Another of his victims was Countess Verena du Pasquier-Geubels, who owns a chateau on Lake Geneva. She met Sgarbi in 2001, when she was 83. Although she did report him to the police, she later dropped her charges.
According to German weekly Focus, the prosecution and defense agreed that the public and media must be excluded from the courtroom when the women give evidence.