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Lauda conman jailed for 9 years

A German businessman who conned celebrities including three-times Formula One champion Niki Lauda out of money in a 60 million GBP pyramid scheme has been jailed for 9 years.

Earlier Lauda had told the court at Vaduz in Lichtenstein that he fell for the biggest con of his life when he agreed to invest with German born businessman Michael Seidl.

Seidl is accused of organised fraud in persuading 44 of the rich and famous in Austria to invest 25 million GBP in his Money Service Group (MSG) - but a separate court case in Switzerland involving many other investors alleges that the final loss is probably closer to 60 million GBP.

When auditors finally moved to try and recover some of the assets they found only £200,000 worth of cigars, fine wines and jewellery.

He managed to persuade wealthy investors to sign up by organising high-profile sponsorships which included the Swiss football league and the Formula One team Sauber among others.

Those who also lost out included ex-ski race ace Harti Weirather who lost 3 million GBP.

In total experts said that they estimate about 2,000 investors in the German-speaking world lost money with the businessman with a total damage probably in excess of 60 million GBP.

Experts say that what Seidl had created was a complicated pyramid scheme in which the money from new investors was used to fund his jet set lifestyle in Switzerland and to pay back interest to earlier investors.

Speaking to the court in which German-born financial adviser Seidl is accused of systematic fraud Lauda said: "In my entire life I have never been so ripped off as I was with this con."

Lauda who is well known for a series of adverts in which his famous parsimony is highlighted said that he had been contacted by Seidl when he offered to take over the sponsorship of the logo on the famous hat Lauda wears by paying 1.2 million euros a year over five years.

He also suggested that Lauda might want to invest some of that money in MSG, money which would be invested in stocks and shares and also solar energy projects. In the end Lauda had handed over 500,000 euros – money which he never saw again.

Lauda said: "The bottom line is that he was a complete conman – I should have punched him when I had the chance to bring the point home."

Lauda has always kept the amount of sponsorship paid for those who put logos on his trademark red baseball cap a closely guarded secret.

He had suffered extensive scarring from the burns to his head during the 1976 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, losing most of his right ear as well as the hair on the right side of his head, his eyebrows and his eyelids. He only had enough reconstructive surgery to replace the lids and get them to work properly, but never felt a need to do any more. Since the accident he has always worn a cap to cover the scars on his head. He has arranged for sponsors to use the cap for advertising.

He wore the blue MSG baseball cap from January to July of last year before switching to the Abu-Dhabi investment company "aabar" that have sponsored the hat for the last year.

Prosecutors had demanded 8 years in jail for the offence which carries a maximum term of 10 years and after the verdict Seidl's lawyer said that he would appeal the outcome.

German Herald





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