A Swiss man has confessed to extorting $10 million from Susanne Klatten, a billionaire German heiress to the BMW fortune, in a bizarre revenge attempt for her family's involvement with the Nazi regime.
Helg Sgarbi, 43, has confessed to wooing Klatten, 46, at an Austrian spa in the summer of 2007. That August, the two had sex in a Munich hotel room while an accomplice filmed them. He first coaxed a sum of nearly $10 million from Klatten, who owns 12.5 percent of BMW and has an estimated fortune of $13 billion, with a sob story about the Mafia coming after him for running over a don's daughter.
In January 2008, after she ended the affair, he threatened to release pictures of her and demanded $60 million. Klatten went to the police. Sgarbi was arrested in Austria last year. His trial began today, and he made a full confession, a move which may have helped curtail his jail time. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
Sgarbi's confession is an almost anticlimactic end to what promised to be a riveting trial. Before it began, prosecutors were believed to have widely leaked details of the case in the German press. Sgarbi played the discreet gentleman, releasing a statement decrying the leaks:
I remain silent, out of respect to the ladies concerned - which is more than can be said for those who are pumping information into the public domain.
And yet he hired Egon Geiss as his lawyer, a famed defender of former Nazis. One of his favored tactics: using a German law which can force witnesses to testify, suggesting that his strategy would be to bring Klatten to the stand. With his confession, Sgarbi avoids that.
What motivated Sgarbi? Reportedly, his real name was Helg Russak, and he was the descendant of forced laborers who worked in BMW factories during World War II — which made his choice of Geiss even odder.
Klatten's grandfather, Günther Quandt, served as an advisor to Hitler; his factories made batteries for Germany's submarines. His first wife, Magda, divorced him and married Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister. The Quandt family, which had denied involvement in the regime for decades, agreed to fund an investigation into their past after a documentary film presented incontrovertible evidence of BMW's complicity.
Which would make Sgarbi some kind of billionaire-bedding, Nazi-fighting hero, right? Except for this: The lothario reportedly scammed at least two other wealthy women at the same time that he pursued Klatten. And if those women's wealth had any Nazi ties, they haven't been reported.
(Photos by Getty Images)