German 'Big Brother' socialite admits fraud that led to her husband's murder

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The Independent Online

A German society hostess and former Big Brother contestant who once boasted that she was a "woman of luxury" yesterday admitted setting up a bizarre insurance fraud that led to her elderly husband being beaten to death by a gang of Eastern European car thieves.

A German society hostess and former Big Brother contestant who once boasted that she was a "woman of luxury" yesterday admitted setting up a bizarre insurance fraud that led to her elderly husband being beaten to death by a gang of Eastern European car thieves.

Tatjana Gsell, 33, who maintained a place in the public eye by milking publicity in newspapers, magazines and television shows, told a court in Nuremberg at the opening of her trial that she had attempted the insurance fraud because she and her new boyfriend, a used car dealer, were in dire financial straits after having run up bills of more than €100,000 (£66,000) at a Marbella hotel.

"I regret that my husband died. I set up the fraud attempt because I was in an extremely difficult financial situation," Mrs Gsell told the court.

Mrs Gsell stands accused of attempted fraud and concealing her crime from police. She has been cleared of complicity over the killing of her 76-year-old husband, Franz, a plastic surgeon. Two members of an Eastern European gang are expected to face trial over his death later this year.

Police launched an investigation in January 2003 after masked intruders broke into the Gsells' luxury Nuremberg villa and attacked Mr Gsell, allegedly with pickaxe handles. The surgeon later died in hospital from his injuries. At the time Mrs Gsell was holidaying in Marbella with her boyfriend Helmut Becker, a 61-year-old financially strapped Düsseldorf car dealer.

The case has captured the imagination of Germany's tabloid press, mainly because of the nature of the Gsells' marriage. Until she met her husband, Mrs Gsell was a dumpy provincial girl named Tatjana Gick. After marrying, she subjected herself to no less than 12 of her husband's operations which transformed her into a raven-haired, silicone-packed Barbie doll. Her toupee-wearing husband boasted: "I delight in having transformed my wife into a work of art."

Mrs Gsell, who appeared with blonde hair at yesterday's hearing, devoted herself to the role of "woman of luxury" and claimed that along with her 13 fur coats, 500 pairs of shoes and €50,000-a-month housekeeping money, her husband owned properties in Monte Carlo, Marbella and Paraguay. Although she appeared on television to advertise her apparent wealth, subsequent media investigations have shown most of these claims to be bogus.

State prosecutors cleared Mrs Gsell of suspicion that she had arranged for the murder of her husband in order to inherit a fortune estimated at €24m. Subsequent investigations showed that her husband was worth little more than €5m.

Mrs Gsell admitted yesterday that her financial predicament prior to her husband's death was difficult. She and her boyfriend were short of money because Mr Gsell had apparently withdrawn her credit cards. Desperate for cash, Mrs Gsell is alleged to have contacted a shadowy Romanian car thief named Welimir V with the aim of carrying out a complicated car insurance fiddle with the family Mercedes 500 SL parked in her husband's garage in Nuremberg.

Under the deal, Welimir V is believed to have been contracted to arrange for the theft of the car papers from the villa to enable them to be forged and later returned.

The Mercedes was then to have been stolen and smuggled to Eastern Europe, enabling Mrs Gsell to reap part of the value of the €100,000 car from the insurance company with the valid documents. However the planned "theft" never took place and the transaction ended with an angry altercation between Mr Gsell and the car thieves.

Mr Gsell is suspected of having been involved in the planned fraud because telephone records show that he made several calls to car companies inquiring about a new vehicle for his wife prior to his death.

A 33-year-old state prosecutor not involved in the investigation, who was a former lover of Mrs Gsell, was alleged to have been promised a €450 payment for overseeing the insurance fiddle. The state prosecutor,who was referred to only by the name of Stefan M, appeared with Mrs Gsell in court yesterday but denied that he was involved in the crime. "I had nothing to do with it," he told the court.

The trial will hear testimony from a total of 13 witnesses and is expected to last for more than a month.

Mrs Gsell announced last week that the fraud case had prevented her from appearing on television to take part in a new reality television show in Germany called Die Alm, set in a Bavarian mountain hut. "I hope this is all over soon," she told reporters.

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