Uncle Scrooge's luck finally runs out

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GERMANY's most notorious and eccentric blackmailer, who had tried to bomb the country's biggest department store chain, Karstadt, into handing over DM1.5m ( pounds 610,000), ran out of luck in a telephone box in east Berlin yesterday.

Named gangster of the year in 1993 by several national publications, the 44-year-old man, dubbed Dagobert, the German for Uncle Scrooge, had run rings round a police operation of military proportions with extraordinary tricks, many inspired by Disney cartoons.

'Dagobert has been arrested, there is no doubt about it,' rejoiced Ulrich Tille, head of the special police unit, who had taken to wearing a Scrooge pin in his lapel. The police said the man had confessed, but released no details. An electronics wizard, Dagobert had set off five home-made bombs since June 1992 in Karstadt stores in various cities, slightly injuring two people.

Karstadt's management initially signalled its willingness to pay up with a message in a newspaper: 'Uncle Scrooge greets his nephews'. Despite 13 attempted handovers, Dagobert never got his ransom, but always managed to elude the police, who employed helicopters, dogs and sophisticated radar equipment to catch him. Until yesterday, the closest they got was when one officer grabbed him by the collar, but then slipped in dog dirt.

The special unit had psychologists poring over Disney comics in an attempt to keep up with the blackmailer's increasingly bizarre ideas for handovers. He had a shoe- box-sized mechanical device hurtling down a rail track, as the police attempted to keep up on a side road; and he outsmarted his hunters with a roadside grit box with a false bottom placed over a sewer manhole.

On several occasions, Dagobert made off with the loot, only to discover it was paper clippings.

Yesterday Mr Tille proclaimed the end of Dagobert's career. But there is already talk of a film.