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'Swiss Gigolo' jailed for six years on blackmail charges

Video by Owen FAIRCLOUGH , Nadia CHARBIT

Latest update : 2009-03-09

A con man known as the "Swiss Gigolo," Helg Sgarbi (pictured), has been jailed for six years for blackmailing several wealthy former lovers. His list of victims includes Germany's richest woman, the heiress to the BMW fortune.

AFP - A smooth-talking con man known as the "Swiss Gigolo" was jailed for six years Monday for cheating and blackmailing a string of super-rich lovers, including Germany's wealthiest woman.
Helg Sgarbi, 44, admitted "the essence" of the charges against him, which included trying to hoodwink BMW heiress Susanne Klatten out of more than 340 million euros (430 million dollars).
"I would like to apologise publicly to my victims," the dark-haired, inconspicuous-looking Sgarbi told the packed courtroom as his trial opened in Munich, southern Germany.
He was accused of trying to defraud Klatten with sob stories, promises of a new life together and finally threats to release compromising video footage of their affair.
Prosecutors had called for a jail term of nine years, saying his confession might be counted in his favour since it would mean that Klatten and the other women would be spared the embarrassing ordeal of having to testify.
"It was pretty clear before the trial that none of the women wanted to come here," judge Gilbert Wolf said as he announced the verdict.
But his confession counted for little while Sgarbi continued to refuse to say what had become of the 9.4 million euros that he swindled out of four women including seven million from Klatten -- as well as the videos, Wolf said.
Sgarbi "was not eligible for any reduction (in his sentence) because he failed to say where his loot is," the judge said.
Defence lawyer Egon Geis -- who in the past has taken on several high-profile cases, including that of Hitler "diaries" forger Konrad Kujau in the 1980s -- had called for five years.
Klatten, 46, is a major shareholder in German luxury carmaker BMW, inherited from her industrialist father Herbert Quandt who saved the Bavarian firm from collapse in 1957 and built it up to a global champion.
Sgarbi, who told his conquests he was a "special Swiss government representative in crisis zones", first met her while hunting for rich, lonely women at the exclusive Austrian health resort of Lanserhof in July 2007.
At first the married mother-of-three spurned Sgarbi's advances but they began an affair when he turned up unexpectedly in the south of France where she was on holiday the following month.
Later in August 2007 they met in the -- for billionaires like Klatten -- inexpensive Holiday Inn hotel in Munich for an "intimate" encounter that Sgarbi secretly filmed.
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 small girl in a car crash in Florida -- asking Klatten to lend him a cool seven million euros.
Klatten duly handed over the sum in the Holiday Inn's underground garage in a cardboard box containing 14 plastic folders each with a thousand 500-euro banknotes.
But when the gigolo told her to leave her husband and put 290 million euros in a trust fund to finance their new life, Klatten baulked and ended the relationship.
Then Sgarbi turned nasty, according to prosecutors, threatening to send compromising video footage of their steamy hotel encounters to the press, to the board of BMW and to her husband.
This time he allegedly demanded 49 million euros, which he then 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.
She was not Sgarbi's only alleged victim, and the Klatten affair has prompted several others to come out of the woodwork.
According to German magazine Stern, he first came to the attention of the authorities in Geneva in 2001 because his "fiancee", one Countess Verena du Pasquier-Geubels -- 50 years his senior -- had gone to the police.
According to the list of charges against him, he spun a similar line with each of his victims, saying he needed millions of euros because he had injured a child in a road accident or claiming to have steamy video footage.
Sgarbi's main accomplice is suspected to be Ernano Barretta, a mysterious 64-year-old due to go on trial in his native Italy on March 24.
Barretta was the head of a sect-like organisation in the Swiss city of Zurich, posing as a Christ-like faith healer who persuaded wealthy women to share his bed and part with their fortunes, according to Stern.

Date created : 2009-03-09