How 'Dr Kimble' burst another dot.com bubble

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The Independent Online

A week ago, the German internet tycoon Kim Schmitz was living it up in the presidential suite of a luxury Bangkok hotel. Yesterday, he was eating porridge at a prison in Munich and trying to explain to police his role in the fluctuating fortunes of the Dutch web company LetsBuyIt.com.

The 28-year-old high roller is better known by the name Dr Kimble. He was once a hacker who penetrated Nasa and the Pentagon before he went over to the other side, trading his naughty skills to companies that were seeking security from people like him. He soon became a millionaire.

That is one version of the Kimble story, but the story now emerging in Germany is far more prosaic. Mr Schmitz, it has been reported, is broke and probably always has been. Worse, the cash he once had was allegedly obtained by dubious means.

On Tuesday morning he was brought back from Bangkok and arrested on suspicion of insider dealing. He is accused of buying shares in LetsBuyIt on the cheap, driving them up, and dumping them moments before their spectacular crash. For a man who once boasted that he would be among the globe's 10 richest people within a decade, the figures bandied about in the sordid tale are disappointingly small – an illicit gain of far less than £1m.

Almost exactly a year ago, Mr Schmitz approached the struggling Dutch company with talk of a €50m (£31m) rescue programme. The company was delighted, but the corpulent German – he says he weighs 160 kilos (26 stone) – was no white knight.

The Dutch company did not see the ¤50m, but "Dr Kimble" did spend ¤37,500 on its shares. His arrival pushed up the share price immediately. When Mr Schmitz cashed the shares in, he was left with a cool profit of more than ¤1.1m.

Mr Schmitz maintains that he did nothing wrong at the company, which has only just managed to avoid collapse. "How am I supposed to have done insider trading at LetsBuyIt.com when I was not part of the company's supervisory board and management?" he said. Nor had he been running away from the law when he jumped on a plane at the end of last year, vowing never to return to Germany.

The showman posted his travel plans on his website in typically hyperbolic style. "A German hi-tech fairy-tale has ended," he wrote. "The DM500m [£160m] man has left Germany, because a super-brain and internet tycoon has been made out in Germany as a braggart, trickster, a fraud."

Some of the details of this message, most notably references to his vast wealth, were not accurate. Around Christmas, Mr Schmitz had a number of painful encounters on his doorstep with muscular debt-collectors. It is quite possible that he was running away from them, rather than the German police. For although "Dr Kimble" lived the life of a tycoon, he never was one himself.

His story illustrates the hubris surrounding internet companies just before the bubble burst. Many of them are a lot poorer now. "Dr Kimble" did have a good time, though. He travelled the world, flanked by models and tabloid celebrities. Now he complains about the Spartan conditions in the Munich prison. Many will miss him, not just his creditors.

His parties were great, even if the entertainers were not always paid. For the next jaunt, he was planning to hire an American aircraft carrier and drive up and down the deck in his sports cars.

At least that's what he said.

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