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Man gets 6 years for defrauding rich woman

A MAN dubbed "the Swiss gigolo" by the German media was sentenced to six years in prison yesterday for defrauding Germany's richest woman of 7 million euros (US$9 million) and attempting to blackmail her for tens of millions more.

Helg Sgarbi had admitted to the Munich court that he threatened to release secretly recorded videotapes of trysts with BMW heiress Susanne Klatten, 46, unless the married woman gave him millions of euros to keep quiet.

The 44-year-old also admitted convincing Klatten to give him 7 million euros by saying it was for the treatment of a girl left paraplegic after a car crash with Sgarbi.

The Munich state court found Sgarbi guilty of fraud and attempted blackmail.

Klatten did not attend the four-hour trial, and her attorney made no statement.

Sgarbi told to the court he met Klatten at a spa near Innsbruck, Austria, in July 2007 and started an affair. Using what prosecutors called a well-practiced scam, he told Klatten that he was involved in a car accident in the United States that left the girl paralyzed, and convinced Klatten to give him the cash for her treatment.

Sgarbi then demanded Klatten leave her family and invest 290 million euros in a trust for him, according to the indictment. When she refused, he threatened to release secretly filmed videos of their affair.

Sgarbi demanded 49 million euros not to tell her family, the heads of her companies and the media. He lowered the demand to 14 million euros but Klatten instead went to the police in January 2007. Sgarbi was arrested soon after in Austria's Tyrolean Alps and has been held in detention since.

Prosecutor Thomas Steinkraus-Koch praised Klatten for her bravery.

"The only victim who came to us and gave a witness statement is Mrs Klatten. We had to find the others, with great difficulty," Steinkraus-Koch said.

Klatten is the daughter of the late BMW magnate Herbert Quandt and holds a 46-percent stake in the company with her mother and brother.


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