'Swiss gigolo' on trial for extortion

Nicknamed the “Swiss gigolo”, Helg Sgarbi is accused of seducing Germany’s richest woman, making a secret video of them having passionate sex in a hotel bedroom and then trying to blackmail her for €14 million by threatening to publish the incriminating material.

Today the 44-year-old - who once boasted to police: “I live off the money women give me” - will appear before a Munich court charged with attempting to extort millions from BMW heiress Susanne Klatten and a string of other wealthy women. If convicted he could face 15 years in jail.

His trail has been billed as one of the most sensational and potentially lurid court cases in German legal history. If the prosecution fails to secure a full confession from the accused, the normally reclusive Mrs Klatten, and other female victims will almost certainly be asked to appear as witnesses.

Yet one of the most intriguing questions posed by the case is the extent to which Mr Sgarbi was controlled, even brainwashed, by his shadowy Italian mentor, the mysterious quasi-religious sect leader, Ernano Barretta, who is reputed to have once claimed that he could “walk on water”.

Mr Barretta, 63, is currently languishing in an Italian jail and awaiting a court decision on whether charges can be brought against him. The Swiss gigolo met the former car mechanic more than a decade ago and is thought to be the most faithful of the sect leader’s 30, so-called “disciples.”

Speculation was rife in the German media yesterday that Mr Sgarbi had vowed to keep silent about his Italian mentor, and Barretta’s name is not mentioned on the charge sheet.

The Swiss-born gigolo used to boast to his wealthy female conquests that he was “Switzerland’s special envoy for crisis zones” in an attempt to explain away his sudden disappearances in order to seduce other women. His favourite method of extorting cash from his victims was to announce that he had run over a child in either Italy or America and was being blackmailed by the Mafia as a result.

His extraordinary career is thought to have started in 2001 when he managed to convince the wealthy 83-year-old Countess Verena du Pasquier Geubels that he was hopelessly in love with her by sending three roses to her Monte Carlo hotel. Mr Sgarbi persuaded her to part with twelve million Swiss francs before he was finally exposed. However, the countess eventually withdrew charges against him and died the following year.

A string of other wealthy women followed. In one case Mr Sgarbi told one 64-year-old victim he urgently needed Euros 1.5 million because a video he had taken of them having sex had fallen into the hands of the Mafia who were now trying to blackmail both of them. He told his female conquest that he had made the video so he could “satisfy” himself when she was not there. The woman believed him, has declined to bring charges and is reported to be still paying off the debt.

He allegedly tried to play the same trick on 46-year-old Susanne Klatten, whom he met at Austria’s elite Lanserhof spa hotel in July 2007. Mrs Klatten, who is married with three children and reputed to be worth around £8.5 billion, initially spurned his advances. But when he suddenly showed up a month later in the south of France, where she was on holiday, they began an affair.

In August they met again at Munich’s Holiday Inn hotel, where Mr Sgarbi is alleged to have made a video of them having sex. A month later he is alleged to have told her that he needed Euros 7 million because he had injured a little girl in a car crash in Florida. Mrs Klatten complied and handed over the cash in the hotel’s underground car park.

But evidently Sgarbi was not satisfied. He is alleged to have demanded that Mrs Klatten leave her husband and hand him Euros 290 million so that they could “start a new life together”. When she refused Mr Sgarbi is said to have threatened to publish his incriminating sex video. At that point, the heiress told her husband, informed the police and the gigolo was arrested. “I realised that he wasn’t the man he claimed to be. I realised the folly of what I had done,” she is reported to have told detectives.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions