German tycoon handed suspended sentence over bankruptcy

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A German court on Monday handed former retail tycoon Anton Schlecker a suspended sentence and jailed two of his children in a high-profile case over their family-owned chain’s criminal bankruptcy. Judges in southwestern city Stuttgart set 73-year-old Anton’s suspended sentence at two years and fined him 54,000 euros ($64,500), while ordering his children Lars and Meike jailed for almost three years each.

Prosecutors had called for prison sentences for all three family members. More than 25,000 people lost their jobs when the Schlecker chain of chemists which sold personal hygiene and household articles but no pharmaceuticals declared bankruptcy in 2012.

People across Germany were outraged at the fate of the “Schlecker ladies” behind the tills, many of them older women working part-time who struggled to find new work. Service-sector union Verdi said at the time it was the largest such wave of lay-offs in the history of western Germany since World War II.

Judges have since March examined questions relating to when Schlecker recognized or ought to have recognized the looming insolvency at his company the largest such chain in Europe. From that moment on, he would have been legally barred from withdrawing assets from the company or transferring funds to other people.

“Everything indicates that you were already counting [on the bankruptcy] from 2009 and secured assets” in anticipation, including making excessive payments to a subsidiary the children controlled and transferring seven million euros of real estate into their names, presiding judge Roderich Martis told Schlecker.

The patriarch pressed on even when he knew there was a more than even chance the company would declare insolvency, the judge found. “Schlecker was a family firm that only cared about its own family, not those of its employees,” Verdi board member Stefanie Nutzenberger said, labeling the case an example of “white-collar crime and lacking responsibility in business”.

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