German hotelier and French dentist deceived

The people who organised the fraud which led to the extraordinary trial at Cork Circuit Criminal Court conned a German hotelier…

The people who organised the fraud which led to the extraordinary trial at Cork Circuit Criminal Court conned a German hotelier and a French dentist.

But the American financier Walter Robin, who lives in Monte Carlo organising multi-million pound deals, was too wily for them. A self-styled "financial engineer", he understands the intricacies not just of Monaco's banking system but a dozen others.

Mr Robin was one of the key prosecution witnesses in Ireland's first money-laundering trial.

The tale as it unfolded was one of many cities, Berlin, Zurich, Nice, Luxembourg, London, Dublin. The cast of characters included a German hotelier, a French dentist, a Luxembourg magistrate, a Swiss lawyer, a professor of economics who lives in Monaco and two young fraudsters, one Swiss, one German.


The story of the scam began in July 1996 when Mr Robin agreed to arrange finance of 40 million deutschmarks (about £16 million) for a hotel and leisure complex which a Berlin businessman, Mr Klaus Jurgen Wiese, planned to build. Mr Robin said: "Mostly the projects I am involved in relate to entertainment, films, TV, hotels, resorts. I see the project to fruition. I have the route to funds." A fellow Monte Carlo resident, Prof Uwe Benne-Kempe, had investigated the plan and said it was viable. An agreement for a loan of DM40 million was drawn up, on condition that Mr Wiese paid a deposit of 10 per cent.

Once paid, the full loan would be provided within 60 days, and Mr Robin signed the agreement. But the deposit was never paid into his Monte Carlo account. Mr Wiese and his financial adviser, Mr Hubertus Kruse, did not have the full deposit and were relying on Mr Sven Uwe Palisch and Mr Peter Jehle, son of Maria Bernadetta Jehle, to raise the extra money after being introduced to Mr Palisch by a director of a major German bank.

Mr Wiese gave them his share of the deposit, DM2 million, plus DM36,000 expenses, and never saw his money again.

Throughout August 1996 the two men continued to reassure him, telling him Mr Robin had the cash. Mr Robin said: "According to their documents I was by this time about DM6 million ahead on this deal. Great. Except it was all bogus. I never received any cash."

A number of meetings took place, including one in Zurich, where Mr Palisch and Mr Jehle, arriving from Ireland, appeared to Mr Wiese to be "very nervous". Neither he nor Mr Robin had his money.

Much the same thing happened during the next few months to French dentist Dr Patric Gueniot, who wanted to finance an invention. In his case the intermediaries were Mr Palisch and Mr Alain Schafer. They were to arrange a loan of eight million French francs (about £1 million) through a company called International Insurance Services, on condition Dr Gueniot provided a 10 per cent deposit of 800,000 francs. He did so and never saw his money again. "They were two crooks," the Frenchman told the court.

Mr Palisch appeared finally to give evidence on behalf of Bernadetta Jehle, having been granted unconditional immunity while in Ireland.

Mr Robin said: "My first impression of Palisch was blue jeans with holes in them, and this was supposed to be a fairly sophisticated business meeting, I didn't like the look of the guy.

"Jehle was a young man who looked more like he should be playing rugby, not involved in financial deals. He had this bizarre story about Palisch driving off in a Mercedes with the cash and a bodyguard. My conclusion was that Palisch took the money and fled the country."

He was right, for by the spring of 1997 Messrs Palisch and Jehle were being investigated by the German, Swiss and Luxembourg police. The trail of documents, both bogus and genuine, which they and Interpol unearthed, led to three Irish bank accounts in Cobh and Midleton, Co Cork, and Cahir, Co Tipperary, and ultimately to the arrest of Bernadetta Jehle on May 16th, 1996, outside the TSB in Midleton.

Aged 27, Mr Palisch was born in the former East Germany. At 19 he was conscripted into the army and served a year. He boasted of making many useful contacts there, enabling him to establish himself as a businessman when he left the army.

"He was a young man in a hurry to grow up," said Ms Maureen Clark SC, for the State. "He was obsessed by money and attached himself to people who wore expensive suits and drove big cars and ran up bills of £200,000 in the Grosvenor House Hotel."

Impeccably dressed in the witness box, Mr Palisch drew the wrath of Judge Patrick Moran on one occasion and was warned about being in contempt of court.

He spoke of the Monte Carlo lifestyle, of Prof Benne-Kempe's 15 luxury cars, his yachts, villas and planes. "Everyone in Monaco lives like that," he assured the court.

His ambition was to enjoy such a lifestyle. In 1995-56 he spent more than £10,000 at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.

The prosecution's case was that some, if not all, of this money was fraudulently obtained: Mr Wiese and Dr Gueniot were his and Mr Jehle's victims.

Bernadetta Jehle, the State claimed, accepted DM500,000 from Mr Palisch and 800,000 francs from her son, Peter, into her Irish bank accounts, knowing it was "dirty" money.

The defence team of Mr Blaise O'Carroll SC and Mr Tom Creed brought witnesses, including Mr Palisch, who said Bernadetta Jehle accepted the money in good faith, because Mr Palisch wanted to buy some of her land for development and her son was helping her to establish a riding school.

At times the 10-week trial descended into farce: two days of it, for example, were spent in Zurich.Six lawyers for both State and defence travelled to the Swiss city to prise information about Mr Palisch's account from his bank. He tried to stop the procedure, but nowadays Swiss banks are obliged to provide information where crime is being investigated.

Then there was a witness named Wieregg-Ebden, a German "haulier" who told the court he picked up money from Mr Palisch in Luxembourg, drove through the night and delivered it to Mr Palisch the next morning at Nice airport. Asked why he did not carry the money himself Mr Palisch said: "Airports are dangerous places".