Europe's Scandal of the Year?

German heiress, blackmailing Swiss lover and Italian mastermind are involved.

ByABC News
December 5, 2008, 11:32 AM

PASSAU, Germany, Dec. 5, 2008— -- State prosecutors have indicted 43-year-old Swiss national Helg Sgarbi for allegedly blackmailing BMW heiress Susanne Klatten, Germany's richest woman.

In August 2007, Klatten, 46, a married mother of three teenagers, fell for Sgarbi, whom she had met at the famous spa retreat Lanserhof, a hangout for the rich and famous in Tirol, Austria, Munich's daily newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported today.

Little did she know that her lover reportedly had an Italian accomplice named Ernano Barretta, 63, who was secretly filming their meetings from a hotel room next door and planning to use the footage to blackmail her.

The publicity-shy heiress filed charges against her former lover in January, according to Munich state prosecution spokesman Anton Winkler.

The incident, however, was revealed in November when the German media discovered the story.

Sgarbi is alleged to have not only blackmailed her but also other wealthy German, Austrian and Swiss women.

The affair between Klatten and Sgarbi reportedly lasted for about two months in the summer of 2007, during which time Sgarbi persuaded Klatten to pay almost $10 million with a tale about having caused a tragic car accident that involved the child of a mafia boss, who was demanding a payoff, according to prosecutors.

But the suspect demanded millions more and threatened to publish some photos that were taken during their affair, if Klatten did not pay more, according to media reports. The heiress instead abruptly ended the relationship.

She hired private detectives to monitor telephone calls in which the suspect allegedly threatened to publicly release some intimate videotapes unless she paid up.

In January Klatten led him to believe that she was going to hand over the money at an Autobahn parking lot near Innsbruck, Austria, but instead she sent the police. They arrested Sgarbi, prosecutors said.

He's been in Munich's Stadelheim jail since January and is now awaiting trial.