More tantalising details have surfaced from the trial of German art dealer Helge Achenbach that began in December – after the 62-year-old was accused of defrauding one of the country’s richest families of tens of millions in the sales of paintings and vintage cars, resulting in estimated damages of €23 million. The case then took another shocking turn when Achenbach claimed that British artist Tony Cragg was involved in the fraud, which the artist strenuously denied. Achenbach, who has been in pre-trial detention, previously denied the accusations against him. If found guilty the art dealer could see himself behind bars for a maximum jail term of 10 years.
Now the court has heard testimony from Achenbach’s former associate, art historian Thomas Kellein, during its last session. Kellein told the court that the adviser had charged pharmaceutical entrepreneur Christian Boehringer “high price premiums,” while Achenbach was managing director of the now-defunct Berenberg Art Advice, a subsidiary of the private Berenberg Bank.
On Monday Achenbach admitted in court that he did charge Boehringer hidden premiums, As the FAZ reports, that according to the art adviser’s testimony, the business targets set by the art consulting firm were too optimistic, which led him to charge an additional fee on top of the agreed purchase price and commission.
“I’m not good at saying no. I try to satisfy all parties. This led me down the wrong path,” Achenbach stated to the court, his voice reportedly faltering. This is the second occasion during his trial that Achenbach has partially confessed to allegations against him.
The court also heard testimony from another former associate of the art adviser, art historian Stefan Horsthemke, who maintained his own innocence, stating, “At no time did I commit unlawful acts with Mr. Achenbach.” Achenbach later contradicted Horsthemke’s statement, telling the court, “I proposed to share. He didn’t turn it down.”
To follow on from the series of partial admissions by Achenbach, Boehringer told the court his version of events. The pharmaceutical entrepreneur testified that he negotiated a 5 percent commission with Achenbach. Boehringer first became suspicious in the autumn of 2012.
He claims that, under pressure, Achenbach showed him a list, which included “additional markups” that were not agreed upon. According to Boehringer, Achenbach later apologised and compensated him with €1.1 million (£1.4 million). After the incident the pharmaceutical entrepreneur stated catagorically that it was “inconceivable” for him to work with Achenbach again.