Tuesday, January 06, 2009

German billionaire commits suicide

German billionaire Adolf Merckle has committed suicide, in despair over the huge losses suffered by his business empire during the financial crisis, his family said on Tuesday.

The media-shy billionaire, whose family controls some of Germany's best-known companies, was hit by a train on Monday evening, local officials said.

"The desperate situation of his companies caused by the financial crisis, the uncertainties of the last few weeks and his powerlessness to act, have broken the passionate family entrepreneur and he took his own life," a family statement said.

State prosecutors from the southern city of Ulm said Merckle, 74, left work on Monday and died after being hit by a train near the town of Blaubeuren. He left behind a suicide note to his family, they added.

Merckle, a father of four, inherited the basis of his fortune from his Bohemian grandfather, but went on to build up the chemical wholesale company into Germany's largest drugs wholesaler.

The passionate skiier and mountain climber assembled a business conglomerate with about 100,000 employees and 30 billion euros ($40.45 billion) in annual sales.

His family controls a number of German companies including cement maker HeidelbergCement and generic drug company Ratiopharm.

But the empire was rocked last year by wrong-way bets made on shares in Volkswagen after a surprise stakeholding announcement from Porsche sent the VW share price rocketing as short sellers scrambled to cover their positions.

Banking sources had told Reuters the family lost hundreds of millions of euros on investments, with about 400 million euros lost on Volkswagen shares alone.

Since then the family has been in talks for weeks with banks to renegotiate loans. Banking sources said on Tuesday his death was not expected to affect loan agreements with the family.

[via paraguay2es @ chucks_angels]

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