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BMW heiress victim of new sex blackmail

German police arrested three men suspected of attempting to blackmail Susanne Klatten, the country's wealthiest woman, by claiming they had a secret video of her affair with a Swiss gigolo, prosecutors said today.

Munich state prosecutor Thomas Steinkraus-Koch said the trio had been arrested last week by police in the northern town of Duisburg on suspicion of trying to extort 800,000 euros and a BMW luxury SUV from Klatten, heiress to the BMW empire.

"They sent a letter to her threatening to give the sex video they claimed to have to Italian media if she did not give them 800,000 euros and a BMW," Steinkraus-Koch told Reuters, adding that Klatten immediately forwarded the letter to police.

"We assume the story about the video was contrived. At least we have found no evidence of any such video after searching their apartments and computers. There is nothing to suggest they ever were in possession of such a sex video."

The three men aged 33 to 46 - including one German and one Serb - were contacted by a police officer posing as an acquaintance of Klatten, he said. They set up a contact phone number for the blackmailers and that led to their arrest.

Klatten, a member of the Quandt family - the leading shareholders in carmaker BMW - went public last year with the story of how her Swiss lover secretly shot intimate footage and later demanded tens of million of euros not to reveal it.

Helg Sgarbi, a former Swiss investment banker, was sentenced to six years in jail by a Munich court after he admitted he had seduced Klatten and three other wealthy women. He persuaded them to pay him nearly 10 million euros under various false pretexts.

Sgarbi, a Swiss army lieutenant, won over Klatten, a 46-year-old married mother of three, at a health centre.

She later handed him a cardboard box containing 7 million euros in 500 euro notes, believing he had paralysed a child in a traffic accident in America and was in need of the money.

Klatten ended the relationship after Sgarbi, 44, demanded more money. He responded by threatening to send photos and tapes of their hotel-room rendezvous to colleagues, family and media unless she gave him 49 million euros. She then went to police.

Klatten's wealth is estimated by Forbes magazine at almost $10 billion, making her the 68th richest person in the world.

The Quandt dynasty had close ties to the Nazi party and built its fortune supplying German army and railway worker uniforms. The first wife of Klatten's grandfather went on to marry Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.

In March, a truck driver from Bochum tried to blackmail Klatten with a similar claim. He was seeking 75,000 euros and is now on trial in Munich for attempted blackmail.