Medard Fuchsgruber is perhaps Germany’s best-known business detective. For more than 30 years, he has chased down swindlers, ferreted out millions of missing euros, and uncovered shady commercial networks.
His team consists of five full-time employees and two dozen freelancers. His clients are mostly deceived investors who know him from his many media appearances. A few days ago, Mr. Fuchsgruber showed up once more on a television program about capital market con artists. The Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper once called him the “Robin Hood of small investors.”
Now the hero has legal troubles himself. Research from Handelsblatt has revealed that state prosecutors in Saarland are investigating Mr. Fuchsgruber for a variety of potential violations. There are criminal complaints, lawsuits and accusations from clients who say they paid Mr. Fuchsgruber a lot of money for little result. The detective says dark forces are seeking to blackmail and destroy him.
But one thing at a time: On May 4, a state prosecutor and eight policemen raided his office in the town of Ottweiler. Officials in Saarbrücken confirmed that two former business partners filed criminal charges against Mr. Fuchsgruber for fraud and breach of trust.
In the first instance, Mr. Fuchsgruber is accused of violating trust and counterfeiting documents in connection with an electric company from Leipzig that has since become insolvent. In 2015, the stakeholders of that company brought in Mr. Fuchsgruber as chief executive to retrieve millions of euros that one of his predecessors had “presumably transferred abroad.” But according to the complaint, the detective put his own hand in the till. He is accused by his former partners of “legally unwarranted transfer of funds,” each time to the tune of tens of thousands of euros. Additionally, they say, the detective is holding onto €70,000 of company money (about $80,000.)
The second case has been playing out since 2014 against the backdrop of shady real estate funds that are currently being liquidated. In 2014, Thuringian financial broker Andreas Köber signed an agreement with Mr. Fuchsgruber to help 300 investors in the crisis-ridden funds. But they soon began fighting about the financial details of the contract. Mr. Köber says Mr. Fuchsgruber received €125,000 plus value-added tax from the investors, but “after deducting expenses, there remains €86,000, for which he did nothing.” Mr. Köber is suing for fraud and malicious deceit: “I warned him back then I wouldn’t be made a fool of. We’ll fight this to the bitter end.”
We meet Mr. Fuchsgruber in a restaurant at the Cologne airport. He has a firm handshake and his eyeglasses rest on the tip of his nose. The accusations against him are all nonsense, he says. “As in the past, such procedures will lead to my exoneration.” He is cooperating with state prosecutors, he says. He leans back in his chair and adds, “You see me here utterly relaxed.”
Mr. Fuchsgruber’s position quickly becomes clear: Everyone else is guilty.
Then he goes on the attack. His business partner in Leipzig was “playing with a stacked deck.” He makes an allegation of blackmail. Mr. Fuchsgruber’s position quickly becomes clear: Everyone else is guilty.
But there are more cases involving Mr. Fuchsgruber that haven’t led to formal legal complaints but reveal a pattern: he comes to the rescue in a time of crisis and collects his fee. Then he doesn’t deliver results or suddenly switches to work for the other side. Often, fights or lawsuits ensue.
A Hamburg entrepreneur who wants to be referred to only as Udo P. explains his dissatisfaction with Mr. Fuchsgruber’s work. He is embarrassed to admit that he put €120,000 into a fund operated by the shady broker Malte Hartwieg, who collected millions of euros of funds with the promise of high returns. He said a partner was investing the funds in oil and gas excavation as well as a gold refinery, but the projects in the United States and Adu Dhabi turned out to be nonexistent, and about €200 million disappeared. The Munich State Prosecutor’s Office is investigating Mr. Hartwieg and his partner on suspicion of fraud.
Back in 2013, Udo P. only knew that his interest payments were no longer arriving. Worried he might never see his money again, he joined up with other victims to hire Mr. Fuchsgruber, who demanded 2.5 percent in advance, with another 12 percent of the retrieved money to be paid as a commission. Udo P. paid the €3,000 deposit – not exactly inexpensive, but the detective was supposed to be a master of his trade. So Udo P. was surprised when soon thereafter, Mr. Fuchsgruber took on a new client: Malte Hartwieg.
Mr. Hartwieg confirms that in April 2014, he hired Mr. Fuchsgruber to “gain knowledge of the foreign location of investors’ money.” He says he agreed upon a fee of €100,000; the detective received half up front, the rest was never paid. Mr. Hartwieg says that instead of any findings, the detective only delivered a list of questions “about which I myself was hoping for answers from the detective.”
Udo P. had a similar experience: “Fuchsgruber didn’t deliver a thing: no reports, no results.” Udo P. ultimately sued for repayment. In March, after four years of fighting, the local court ruled in his favor.
In 2014, Mr. Fuchsgruber presented himself to a third party, the liquidator Rolf Pohlmann, who was tasked with cleaning up the rubble of Mr. Hartwieg’s empire. Mr. Pohlmann writes in a report that he had the impression “that Mr. Fuchsgruber was primarily concerned with marketing his services.” But there was no reason to expect that Mr. Fuchsgruber “would be able to provide further information in accordance with the rule of law.”
Mr. Fuchsgruber dismisses the existence of any conflict of interest. “The whole time in the Malte Hartwieg case, there was a clear agreement that our investors would be given priority if things came to a settlement,” he says. He claims to have ended the collaboration with Mr. Hartwieg because he didn’t receive crucial documents. Mr. Fuchsgruber feels he did nothing wrong, and clients were informed in telephone conferences about the state of the investigations.
Current investigations also cast a harsh light on some of Mr. Fuchsgruber’s other earlier activities. A few years back, a real estate developer from Kassel hired Mr. Fuchsgruber to make an online information service stop publishing false and libelous information about him and paid €68,000 for the service. A few weeks later, the same information service presented Mr. Fuchsgruber as a new “collaborative partner,” and his former client was left out in the cold. The real estate developer says that after Mr. Fuchsgruber switched sides, libelous abuse even increased. The client filed a complaint and demanded a refund.
Mr. Fuchsgruber rejects these charges as well, claiming the parties came to an agreement and the complaint was withdrawn. Furthermore, he says he never took money from the information service. Today the real estate developer says simply that the litigation was resolved “in our favor.”
Is Mr. Fuchsgruber not a Robin Hood but an opportunist?
Is Mr. Fuchsgruber not a Robin Hood but an opportunist? Whatever the answer, creditworthiness seems to have been in short supply at Mr. Fuchsgruber’s detective agency.
According to credit agency Creditreform, Mr. Fuchsgruber refused six times to provide a financial disclosure as head of his firm; it warns against doing business with him.
Fuchsgruber Treuhand GmbH recently listed liabilities amounting to €385,000 on its balance sheet. Mr. Fuchsgruber explains that those are not outside debts, just cross-claims among his various firms. But Creditreform says that there are entries in the debtors’ register for his consulting firm, his insurance company, his former debt-collection firm as well as his horse-breeding farm.
The detective says the reputation of insolvency is part of a carefully conceived strategy: “For years, people have been trying to do me in. So I present myself as illiquid to draw the anonymous sharpshooters out of their lairs.” The detective offers to have an auditor confirm liquidity of €300,000 within a week. “There is no real threat of insolvency,” he claims. The audit has yet to materialize.
In spite of everything, Mr. Fuchsgruber is looking to the future. He says he recently moved to Düsseldorf and is involved in new, wide-ranging investigations. “I can’t tell you more at this time,” he says with a grin. As the conversation reaches an end, Mr. Fuchsgruber becomes pensive for a moment. He acknowledges that he is constantly putting out fires: “I’ve been dealing with mad men for 30 years. Sometimes I wonder whether they’ve infected me with their loss of reality.” He takes a sip of his coffee and answers his own question: “In my opinion, that hasn’t happened yet.”
Lars-Marten Nagel is a member of Handelsblatt’s investigative team based in Berlin. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org