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Germany

"Swiss Gigolo" Gets Six-Year Jail Sentence for Blackmailing German BMW Heiress

A smooth-talking conman known as the "Swiss Gigolo" was jailed for six years on Monday, March 9, for cheating and blackmailing a string of super-rich lovers, including Germany's wealthiest woman.

Susanne Klatten

Klatten reportedly has a personal fortune worth several billion euros

The sentence was handed down after Helg Sgarbi, known as the "Swiss Gigolo," pleaded guilty to charges of cheating and blackmailing a string of super-rich lovers, including Germany's wealthiest woman, BMW heiress Susanne Klatten.

The long list of charges covering four different women were "in essence" accurate, 44-year-old Helg Sgarbi's lawyer told the court in the German city of Munich.

This meant the four women would not have to testify against him in court.

Sgarbi, a Swiss national, was accused of cheating Klatten, 46, out of seven million euros ($8.8 million) and trying to blackmail her for 49 million euros, saying he had video footage of their steamy hotel encounters.

Three other women had allegedly fallen prey to him and voluntarily parted with millions of dollars.

"I would like to give the following statement," Sgarbi told the court, "I regret the events deeply and apologize here in this trial and in all publicity to the aggrieved women."

Klatten is the daughter of the late Herbert Quandt, the German industrialist who saved BMW from collapse in 1957 and built the Bavarian carmaker into a world auto power. The case was filed after she went to the police and exposed Sgarbi.

Klatten told tale of intricate con

Susanne Klatten

The trial in Munich has seized media attention

According to prosecutors, Sgarbi first met Klatten, who reputedly has a personal fortune running to several billion euros, at an exclusive Austrian health resort in July 2007.

The publicity-shy, married mother of three spurned Sgarbi's advances but began an affair when the smooth-talking Sgarbi turned up unexpectedly in the south of France where she was on holiday the following month.

Later in August 2007 they met in a Holiday Inn hotel in Munich -- where Klatten believed she would not run the risk of bumping into any acquaintances -- for an "intimate" encounter that Sgarbi secretly filmed, according to the charges.

In September they met at the same hotel and this time Sgarbi allegedly said that he needed 10 million euros because he had injured a little girl in a car crash in Florida -- asking Klatten to lend him a cool seven million euros.

Klatten swallowed his story, handing over the sum in the underground garage of the Holiday Inn in a cardboard box containing 14 plastic folders each with a thousand 500-euro banknotes.

Sgarbi then told Klatten to leave her husband and put into a trust fund 290 million euros to fund their new life together.

Klatten balked, and ended the relationship.

Blackmail causes nasty turn

A man holds a suitcase full of money

Sgarbi wanted an initial 49 million euros to keep quiet

Sgarbi then turned nasty, according to prosecutors, threatening to send compromising video footage of the two together to the press and to her husband, among others.

This time he allegedly demanded 49 million euros, which he subsequently reduced to 14 million euros, and set a deadline of January 15 last year. But she had long since informed the police, and Sgarbi was arrested.

Klatten is reputedly Germany's richest woman, with a large stake in BMW as well as a chemicals firm.

Sgarbi, who has been in custody since his arrest in Vomp, Austria last year, faces four counts of serious fraud and two charges of attempted blackmail.

Media claim Sgarbi was a serial seducer who approached his wealthy victims at luxury hotels and duped them into thinking he loved them.

He persuaded them to give him millions of euros by inventing stories about needing money to pay compensation for a child he injured in a car accident.

Con artist facing prison but hoping for leniency

A German prison

German law comes down hard on fraud and blackmail

German law punishes serious fraud with up to 10 years in prison and blackmail with up to 15 years.

Before Monday's hearing began, a spokesman for the Munich prosecutor's office told news channel NTV that Sgarbi faced a prison sentence of several years but that he could expect some leniency if he were to plead guilty.

"If he makes a confession, if he spares his victims from having to appear here in public, he will get a corresponding reduction ... in his sentence," Anton Winkler said.

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