Police: Stolen coffin with remains of Austrian billionaire Friedrich Flick returned to family

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stolen remains of Austrian billionaire returned

BUDAPEST, Hungary — A coffin containing the body of an Austrian billionaire has been returned to his family, more than a year after it was stolen from a graveyard by thieves who blackmailed the relatives for $150,000 (€100,000), police said Wednesday.

It also emerged that criminals from Hungary and Romania were involved in the crime, and that private investigators and security companies had been involved in the search for the coffin without telling police.

“This is a large case of blackmail that was carried out very professionally, although it involved a rather unusual instrument — a coffin,” said Ernst Geiger, the organized crime chief at Austria’s equivalent of FBI.

The remains of Austrian billionaire Friedrich Karl Flick were stolen from a cemetery in Velden, southern Austria, in November 2008. Flick had died two years earlier at a time when Forbes magazine said he was among the 100 richest people in the world. He owned Austria’s largest private forest and led a German industrial empire.

The coffin and the body were returned to Flick’s relatives on Tuesday, said Flick family spokesman Joerg-Andreas Lohr.

Budapest police chief Gabor Toth told reporters that private detectives hired by the Flick family had found the coffin last month in Budapest, even as the police in Hungary and Austria were still investigating the crime. Private investigators and security companies from Austria, Ukraine and Hungary had been involved in the search, without informing police of that, Toth said.

The police were investigating whether the private detectives had broken the law.

Meanwhile, a 41-year-old Hungarian lawyer identified only as Barnabas Sz. is suspected of masterminding the crime and was in police custody, Toth said.

The thieves were demanding 6 million euros ($9 million) in ransom for the casket and Flick’s body, said Geiger.

A Hungarian man who allegedly was hired by the main suspect to drive a truck from Austria to Hungary with the stolen coffin, was detained by police last week. It was through him that police unraveled the rest of the story and the involvement of the private companies.

Several other suspects were still at large, including three believed to be Romanian citizens, police said.

Toth said an international warrant had been issued for the arrest of Laszlo “Grizzly” Farago, a Romanian man suspected of picking up a preliminary payment of €100,000 ($150,000) in Vienna from the Flick family on July 3.

On Wednesday, Lohr confirmed that the remains had been returned and said a second burial was planned for the coming days.

Lohr added the family was relieved the ordeal was over.

“It was a nightmare,” he said.

Associated Press Writer Veronika Oleksyn contributed to this report from Vienna.

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