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Italian Sect Leader With Mafia Links Jailed Over Blackmail Of BMW Heiress

A man has been jailed for his part in blackmailing the heiress to the BMW fortune and Germany's richest woman, Susanne Klatten.

Italian Ernano Barretta, 69, was found guilty of blackmailing Klatten by a court in the Italian city of Pescara in 2012 and jailed for six years and seven months after Italian prosecutors said he was the mastermind behind the gang who organised the blackmailing plot.

He appealed the conviction, but now a court in the city of l'Aquila in central Italy, has thrown out his appeal, and he will have to start the sentence.

The wealthy heiress handed over 6.2 million GBP to gigolo Helg Sgarbi who was jailed in 2009 for six years.

Sgarbi approached Klatten, 46, at the elite Lanserhof spa near Innsbruck in Austria in July 2007. The married mother is worth around 8.5 billion GBP, making her the richest woman in Germany and the 55th richest woman in the world according to Forbes Magazine.

Klatten is notoriously reclusive. But somehow, Sgarbi broke through her reserve as she lounged by the spa's pool.

He said he was a special operative who 'sorted out crises abroad' for his political masters in Switzerland. A secret agent, no less.

"He was charming, attentive," she said in her testimony to police in Germany when she made her original complaint, "and at the same time he seemed very sad. That stirred a feeling in me that we had something in common."

Their next meeting was in August, four weeks later, in room 629 at the Holiday Inn in the Schwabing district of Munich in Germany.

Next door, in room 630, somebody filmed them making love.

That was organised by Ernano Barretta, accused of being Sgarbi's accomplice. Barretta, who has been described as the head of a religious sect, denies everything.

By August 26 the affair was accelerating and the pair were back in Room 629. This time, Sgarbi is said to have put Phase One of his sting into operation.

Klatten says he told her that on his last trip to Miami, Florida, he crashed his car and killed the daughter of a mafia hitman.

Swiss, Italian and German police who investigated him said he had spun this line at least three times in the past. He said the mafia wanted 10 million euros (8.9 million GBP) or they would 'shred' him.

He said he could raise three million, but needed to find the rest. Klatten decided to lend him the cash.

Disillusionment set in the following month. "I realised that he wasn't the man he claimed to be," she told detectives. "I realised the folly of what I had done."

When she stopped replying to his text messages, he sent her menacing letters. "Do you remember, my love, when we met in broad daylight in a Munich hotel room after your holidays?" said one. Then, she claims, came a brutal demand for 49 million euros (43.8 million GBP) together with a CD of stills of their lovemaking session.

Frightened, she decided to confess to her husband and go to the police - despite the shame it would cause her family.

Klatten is a member of the Quandt dynasty, which made its money producing uniforms for the Kaiser's soldiers before moving on to Nazi arms factories, and later still to the luxury carmaker BMW.

She told Sgarbi she would pay 14 million euros (12.5 million GBP) and arranged a meeting in Austria. There, Sgarbi was met by the police.

Italian newspapers have speculated that he was one of 30 disciples of a strange quasi-religious sect run by Barretta, who once claimed to have walked on water.

Barretta, who has Mafia links, denied any involvement in the case.

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