Swindler Jurgen Harksen tells all in new book
Convicted German confidence trickster Jurgen Harksen describes in a book published in Germany on Friday how he persuaded his rich victims to keep sending him money in South Africa during a nine-year run from the law.
Harksen, who was extradited back to Germany in 2002 and is now serving an 81-month prison sentence, describes how he hired a host of working-class South Africans to act the part of American bankers as he met German “clients” in luxurious Cape Town restaurants.
Though the actors spoke with South African accents, the German investors were fooled into believing that Harksen was an international financier, he says in the autobiography, How I Got Their Money Off the Rich: The Career of a Confidence Trickster.
A woman who presented herself as “Sue Ellen” impressed them with her beauty and “aura of power,” but a home handyman and an English alcoholic nearly gave themselves away with dirty fingernails.
A balding composer of film music who wore a wig to a Harksen performance was recognised by waiters and addressed by his actual nickname, but the victims perceived this as proof of the “banker’s” worldwide fame.
In the book, Harksen describes how he fleeced dozens of rich Germans of their money from 1989 onwards with a scam called “Factor 13”: he told them he was a financial consultant who could invest their money and repay them 13 times as much.
With police looking for him, he fled to South Africa in a chartered private jet in October 1993.
“The money supply more or less kept working in my early South African years. I still received money from a section of my clients who kept on throwing good money after bad,” he says. Harksen says he also had money secreted in Switzerland.
The anecdotal book describes what was apparently Harksen’s first meeting with Gerald Morkel, premier of Western Cape province from 1998 to 2001, whose Democratic Alliance party was badly damaged by allegations that Harksen gave Morkel money privately.
In the book, Harksen uses pseudonyms for all his associates, and calls the premier “Stephen Jackson”.
Harksen has already testified in detail about the relationship.
He appeared before South Africa’s Desai commission in 2002. Morkel, who by then was mayor of Cape Town, resigned.
In the book, Harksen insists the premier had contacted him first, with provincial finance minister “Mike Ramsay” conducting an initial meeting in the premier’s office and demanding money for the DA in a way “I would have more expected from a blackmailer”.
Throughout the book, Harksen describes how he strung along his creditors with “fairy stories”, but shows no remorse, and complains that his wife and friends let him down.
Describing how he faked a heart attack in 1999 in a courtroom to avoid prison, he says the unkindest cut of all was to hear his wife say: “Darling, quit the play-acting.” He adds: “I really was sick, with angina and depression.”
Harksen says he wants to be buried when he dies alongside his “best friend”, a German shepherd dog named Bamse that is buried on Klaasenbosch Farm, the luxurious property Harksen owned in the Cape Town suburb of Constantia from 1995 to 1998.
The star South African lawyers who delayed his extradition home for nine years on technicalities receive no gratitude in the book. He says they “humiliated and blackmailed” him with demands for fees.
“I was a cow for the South African legal community to milk,” he says in the book, complaining that he was not able to obtain enough “loans” from “clients” to pay the lawyers and had to dip into the capital he swindled in Germany as well.
“When I ran out of money, from 2000 on, the senior counsel only pursued my numerous cases half-heartedly. They could blackmail me quite legally and say ... if you don’t pay, we won’t represent you.”
Extracts from the book, ghost-written by Ulf Mailaender, have appeared this week in the mass-circulation German newspaper Bild.
The total damage that Harksen caused has never been completely calculated, as he was only convicted on specimen charges, but the sum enabled him to buy luxury homes, a yacht and a variety of high-priced cars as well as throw elaborate parties and hire top lawyers.
At sentence in 2003, the court said Harksen’s show of remorse and promise to return money to his victims had led to a lesser sentence. Last year, Harksen obtained day release from a low-security prison near Hamburg and obtained work in a restaurant kitchen.
But last month, after hearing of plans to make a film of his life and seeing the book manuscript, judges changed their opinion.
On an application from Harksen (45) for parole, they ruled that the jail must remain his home, saying his urge always to have his own way was undimmed. They said the whole book, beginning with the title, proved his “lack of shame at his crimes”.
The fraudster’s lawyer, Marc Langrock, says he will appeal against the decision to the German High Court, because, including time in jail in South Africa, Harksen has served two-thirds of the sentence, the usual minimum in Germany for parole for first-time offenders.—Sapa-dpa