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German senior jailed for blackmailing Haribo

Darko Janjevic with dpa
July 10, 2017

A 74-year-old German has tried to extort a million euros from the candy maker Haribo and two supermarket chains by threatening to poison their products. He told the court he was acting out of a fear of poverty.

Persil Waschpulver
Image: picture-alliance/maxppp/J. F. Frey

Judges in the German city of Bonn sentenced the man to three years and nine months in prison on Monday, after the defendant confessed to attempted blackmail.

The man admitted to threatening Haribo, as well as the Lidl and Kaufland supermarket chains. However, the 74-year-old said he never actually poisoned any food or sweets sold in their stores.

"I am really very, very sorry," he told the court, according to Bonn's General-Anzeiger newspaper. "What I did was completely idiotic."

The pensioner claims he was facing debts after going through a treatment for alcoholism. He only had 3 euros ($3,43) in his wallet when he came up with the idea of blackmailing a major company, the man told the judges.

Asking for bitcoin

The defendant, whose name was withheld due to German privacy laws, first threatened to poison products in Lidl, and sprayed butyric acid in their fridges to make his threats more credible. While the acid is relatively harmless in small doses, it has a distinct and unpleasant smell.

Despite his threats, Lidl refused to pay and reported the attempt to the police.

Prozess gegen mutmaßlichen Haribo-Erpresser
The man said he was motivated by fear of povertyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Kaiser

The man then tried to extort 1 million euros ($1.14 million) from Kaufland and Haribo by threatening to poison frozen pizzas, cheese, and gummy bears with deadly potassium cyanide. He first directed his threats through a post office near Aachen, and then continued to send emails from his home in Dortmund.

"You either pay me a million euros in bitcoin, an internet currency, within the next ten days, or I'll poison your products with cyanide," he wrote to the companies, in a letter cited by German public broadcaster WDR.

Stickers to intimidate Haribo

The two firms also rejected the attempted extortion. The police examined the pizzas and cheese the man had said he planned to poison and found them to be safe.

The man also upped the ante by creating warning stickers saying "Caution - Poison" on his home computer. He proceeded to place them on Haribo products in different stores, the Süddeutche Zeitung daily reported.

However, the police managed to track the extortion letters to the post office in Aachen and find the suspect by reviewing the security footage. The authorities also recovered his IP address from the emails he had sent out, leading to his arrest on December 24, 2016.

'Refined' methods, 'high' energy

Symbolbild Discounter Lidl
Big trade chains, such as Germany's Lidl, often receive extortion claimsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kusch

During the trial, the man confessed to also ordering and paying for potassium cyanide on Darknet. He never received the poison.

"I never had the intention to hurt anyone," he said before the court. "I did intend to use it, just to send some of it to the companies, so they would pay."

While the 74-year-old hoped to receive a suspended sentence, the judges said his actions were "in the realm of serious crime."

The council rejected his claims that his only motive was fear of poverty. His actions were also motivated by his ambition to be better and smarter than other blackmailers, where he displayed "refined" methods and "high criminal energy," according to the judges.

His lawyer said he would ask for the verdict to be revised.