Phony Valuations

In Art Fraud Targeting Aldi Heirs, Prosecutors Widen Probe

Helge Achenbach has a painting he'd like to sell you. Source: DPA
Helge Achenbach has a painting he'd like to sell you.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    It has long been presumed that Stefan Horsthemke-Lichtenberg, the former business partner of jailed art consultant Helge Achenbach, could have been involved in possible fraud in connection with the procurement of art and vintage cars.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Mr. Achenbach has been in jail since June.
    • He is accused of defrauding the Albrecht family of the Aldi supermarket empire, the pharmaceutical entrepreneur Christian Boehringer and the Viehof brothers, former owners of the discount retailer Allkauf.
    • The arrest warrant estimates the presumed damages to be €60 million or $78 million.
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    Audio

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Prosecutors in the German city of Essen have confirmed that they are charging Stefan Horsthemke-Lichtenberg, an assistant to the jailed art consultant Helge Achenbach, who has been accused of defrauding wealthy Germans.

The prosecutor’s office said Tuesday that Mr. Horsthemke-Lichtenberg has been “accused of, together with Helge Achenbach, knowingly contributing to commission-based business in which they duped investors with sales prices of art and vintage cars that were higher than the actual amounts.”

At issue are reportedly three deals involving two different investors.

The affair involving Mr. Achenbach, 62, who has been in jail since June, is apparently much bigger than previously thought. The arrest warrant estimates the fraud damages to be €60 million or $78 million. Until now, there have been five possible victims, including the Albrecht family, heirs to the Aldi supermarket empire, the pharmaceutical entrepreneur Christian Boehringer and the Viehof brothers, former owners of the discounter Allkauf.

“Dr. Horsthemke will turn himself over to the legal proceedings and will disprove the initial suspicions of the public prosecutor’s office,” said Michael Tsambikakis of Cologne law firm Graf von Westphalen.

The attorney for Mr. Horsthemke-Lichtenberg added that his client will only speak to prosecutors at this time. Mr. Achenbach’s attorney also disputes any accusation of fraud.

According to information received by Handelsblatt, the injured parties in both of the cases involving Mr. Horsthemke-Lichtenberg were presumably the now-deceased Aldi Nord heir Berthold Albrecht and his family.

Mr. Albrecht’s five children denounced Mr. Achenbach in April for fraud, among other things. In the criminal complaint, Mr. Horsthemke-Lichtenberg is mentioned, and independent of the expressed suspicion that Mr. Albrecht was possibly financially harmed during the purchase of vintage cars through a “middleman” with whom Mr. Achenbach “colluded.”

Research conducted by Handelsblatt shows that Mr. Horsthemke-Lichtenberg was connected to at least one of these companies, which, among other things, created valuation reports for vintage car insurance companies.

Mr. Horsthemke-Lichtenberg was a silent partner for this company and possibly still is. The managing director of the company declined to comment about the Achenbach case to Handelsblatt.

The chance of winning damages by the allegedly injured parties may be small.

The other injured party may be Mr. Boehringer.

What is certain is that Berenberg Art Advice, of which Mr. Boehringer was a client, demanded damages be paid by Mr. Horsthemke-Lichtenberg and Mr. Achenbach. The reason: as managing directors both reportedly cheated Mr. Boehringer through the procurement of works of art. That is according to documents made available to Handelsblatt.

A letter from the Hamburg law firm Strunk Kolaschnik dated Oct. 9, 2013, to Horsthemke-Lichtenberg states: “Our client and Mr. Boehringer were caused to make vastly inflated payments by you and Mr. Achenbach by you presenting invoices for amounts which differ considerably from those on the original bills given to us after the fact from the respective sellers.”

Achenbach reportedly admitted to doing so. The letter stated: “Mr. Achenbach admitted to your participation in this illegally acquired profit margin.”

Berenberg Art Advice was a subsidiary of Berenberg Bank.

Its purpose, among other things, was to act as a broker for wealthy customers looking for investment objects.

Shortly after the Boehringer case became known in mid-2013, Mr. Achenbach and Mr. Horsthemke-Lichtenberg left the company. Mr. Boehringer estimated his damages to be €1.12 million. Sources close to Mr. Horsthemke-Lichtenberg said that Mr. Achenbach alone settled on the prices, and Mr. Horsthemke-Lichtenberg reportedly did nothing wrong.

Nevertheless, he continued to do business with Mr. Achenbach. In November 2013, he and a son of Mr. Achenbach joined the State of the International Art Advisory, founded by Helge Achenbach. Its principal shareholder is State of the Art, which is backed by Mr. Achenbach. Like two other of his companies, it has since declared bankruptcy.

The chance of winning damages from the allegedly injured parties may therefore be small.

In November a lawsuit filed by the Albrechts will be handled in Düsseldorf. It involves €20 million. But for the Albrechts there still is a ray of hope: one of Mr. Achenbach’s disappeared “oldtimers” is now being secured in Düsseldorf.

This article was translated by Mary Beth Warner. To contact the author: keuchel@handelsblatt.com 

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