Found Guilty of Fraud, Art Advisor Helge Achenbach Sentenced to Six Years in Prison

Achenbach showed remorse during trial and tearfully apologized for his actions.

Helge Achenbach Photo: Carsten Sander via Gesellschaft Freunde Der Künste

The prominent German art advisor Helge Achenbach has been sentenced to six years in prison, Die Welt reports. A district court in the city of Essen found him guilty on 18 counts of fraud.

Achenbach enjoyed a reputation as one of Germany’s top art advisors, capable of identifying and securing some of the most important artworks on the market as well as works with potential to increase in value. His list of clients was long and distinguished; many of Germany’s top collectors made use of his extensive network and his expertise to build their collections.

In June 2014 allegations of fraud against Achenbach emerged after Babette Albrecht, widow of the late billionaire and Aldi supermarket heir, Berthold Albrecht, one of Germany’s wealthiest men, filed a 24-page complaint alleging that the art advisor defrauded the family of at least €18 million (see €18 million Fraud Claim Against Art Adviser).

An audit revealed some inconsistencies between the invoices and the agreed commission. The family accused Achenbach of altering invoices and adding unqualified markups to some works’ prices.

Achenbach was arrested soon afterwards and placed under remand, a pre-trial investigatory detention.

Surprise Confession

The art advisor vehemently denied all allegations against him and initially maintained his innocence. However during the trial in December 2014 he delivered a surprise confession, admitting that he had marked up purchase invoices to minimize the risk associated with a buy-back clause, which his five percent commission reportedly did not cover (see Achenbach Gives Surprise Partial-Confession in Fraud Case).

Despite the fraud Achenbach insisted that Albrecht had not made a loss. The collection Albrecht, amassed for around €50 million ($52.68 million), is worth an estimated €80 million ($84.29 million) today.

During the trial it also surfaced that Achenbach defrauded the pharmaceutical entrepreneur Christian Boehringer of €1.1 million ($1.16 million), which was settled out of court in 2012 (see Achenbach Confesses to Yet More Fraud).

Achenbach Expected a Prison Sentence

Achenbach showed remorse several times during the trial and apologized for his actions. In his closing remarks he tearfully said that he was ashamed of what he did and that he expected a prison sentence.

Achenbach’s various business endeavours, which also included a restaurant chain, have filed for bankruptcy. His extensive art collection will soon be auctioned. A court in Düsseldorf also ordered him to pay €19.4 million ($20.44 million) in damages to the Albrecht family. He has appealed the verdict (see €19.4 million Ruling Against Achenbach as Collection Hits Auction Block).

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