A court has found German art adviser Helge Achenbach guilty of abuse of confidence – 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. A district court in Düsseldorf had previously ruled that the German art adviser must pay €19.4 million in damages to the heirs of Aldi Supermarket heir Berthold Albrecht, the DPA reported at the time.
Now the German court on Monday sentenced Achenbach to six years in prison for defrauding the heir of the Aldi supermarket chain. A court in the western city of Essen ruled that the 62-year-old should serve one year less in prison than the prosecutors had sought. The art advisor had earlier admitted cheating Berthold Albrecht, son of the Aldi founder Theo Albrecht.
The court found Achenbach guilty on 18 counts including fraud and abuse of confidence. The state charges that he defrauded the late Berthold Albrecht, heir to the Aldi Nord supermarket empire, of 22.5 million euros or £17.7 million in the sales of 14 artworks and nine cars, by deceiving his client about the original purchase prices. the dealer is also accused of having defrauded two other wealthy customers in art deals, the court stated.
In an emotional confession, Achenbach spoke to the court of his close friendship to the late billionaire. According to Handelsblatt the art advisor had previously told the court that it was “unforgivable” that “the trust placed in me by Berthold Albrecht was not justified.” Achenbach even claimed that British artist Tony Cragg was involved in the fraud, Art Magazine reported at the time.
The art advisor went on to admit marking up purchase invoices to minimise the risk associated with the contractual buy-back clause, which his five percent commission reportedly did not cover. A probe began in 2012 after Berthold Albrecht’s widow found irregularities in the bills related to the sales, including paintings by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Oskar Kokoschka and Gerhard Richter, and vintage Bugattis, Ferraris and Bentleys.
The court has estimated that the overcharges on purchases by Achenbach amounted to nearly 20 million euros ($21 million) for Albrecht alone. The art advisor has admitted to inflating invoices to mark up prices, and consequently his five percent commission that Albrecht had agreed to pay for artworks. Achenbach also admitted to cheating the owner of the Boehringer Ingolheim pharmaceutical empire, Christian Boehringer.