After striking it big in the U.S., Jurgen Hermann battled financial powers back in Liechtenstein. A reporter recalls the unraveling of a man now accused of murdering a top banker.
VADUZ — They think the accused murderer is dead, but can't be sure of much at this point.
"We believe he may have committed suicide," says Jules Hoch, Liechtenstein’s police chief. "But as long as we haven’t found the body we have to assume he may still be alive."
Authorities continue to search in and around Vaduz, the capital of the tiny principality while helicopters equipped with infrared cameras circle overhead.
Security was also tightened in the principality, which counts 35,000 inhabitants. The parliament building is being watched more closely than usual, and there is talk of cancelling hearings. The financial institutions as well are under close surveillance.
The man that everybody wants to find, dead or alive, is named Jürgen Hermann.
On Monday he is alleged to have shot dead the well-known fund manager Jürgen Frick, 48, head of the eponymous Liechtenstein private bank. The brother of Mario Frick, a former Head of Government in Liechtenstein, Jürgen Frick is survived by his wife and three children.
Hermann is said to have killed him in the bank’s underground garage. Surveillance camera images reportedly show three shots being fired.
That evening, along the Rhine River, the police found a jacket, keys, a driver’s license, a passport, a letter and a confession from Hermann — but no trace of the man himself.
This reporter can offer a suddenly relevant flashback to a sunny day in 2008, sitting with Jürgen Hermann in an outdoor café. He was sounding off on the financial industry of Liechtenstein, which he believed was run by "criminals."
He'd show them, Hermann muttered.
He spoke about his life. How in his 18 years in the United States he'd made a fortune, in part due to his invention of a dive computer. He’d owned beach homes in San Francisco and Hawaii, he said.
"In those days my family and I would easily spend a million a year." When we spoke, however, he was living off some remaining capital, because when he came back to Liechtenstein “they” had led him to ruin — “they” being the Frick bank, financial authorities, the government, the princely family, everybody in Liechtenstein in fact. And they were going to pay a heavy price for that, he declared.
The drama began when Hermann, an electrical engineer, created two funds — Silicon Valley Equity and Global Equity — that invested in technology companies in Silicon Valley. On that sunny day in the café six years ago, he spoke with a mix of enthusiasm and bitterness about how his funds had "garnered attention worldwide" and placed top in all the rankings.
Absurd and unfounded
Then, "for no reason," financial authorities roped them in, apparently because their advertising had been too strident. When that news got out in 2004, many investors withdrew their money. The funds ended up in liquidation. Hermann claimed to have lost 30 million Swiss francs ($34 million).
He saw himself as a victim of a plot by competitors and people who envied him — something that Jürgen Frick called "ludicrous, absurd, and unfounded." Hermann filed a multimillion suit and started circulating information about the case on the Internet and to the international media.
The impression Jürgen Hermann made as he recounted his version of events was of a volatile, cocky man, highly intelligent and angry beyond all measure. Over the years, that anger became hatred. His correspondence became increasingly aggressive and often riddled with cheap shots at numerous targets. He went to court and predicted triumphant victory shortly before the verdict — these judges knew what they were doing, he said. When he lost, he described them as a "monkey court."
Justice authorities were warned to keep an eye on Hermann, whose behavior was becoming ever more erratic. At some point he started calling himself Robin Hood. It was him against the financial mafia. His legal fights morphed from campaigns into crusades. Behind the scenes he was on a constant quest for contacts in the princely house, in government and other Liechtenstein institutions, to see if some out-of-court settlement could be reached. But nothing panned out. The situation worsened.
When he got a letter from somebody criticizing his methods as excessive, Hermann angrily faxed the letter back to the sender with the words “where there is injustice there is soon war” written on it. By this time, even people who sympathized with him were taking their distance.
"He was his own undoing," says someone who knew him well.
And now the spectacular end — if in fact it is the end. The place where Hermann’s belongings were found is along a dangerous stretch of the Rhine with life-threatening whirlpools and currents. A place where a body is unlikely to be found. But until one is, locals aren’t buying the suicide theory.