On Christmas Eve, last year, German police arrested a pensioner who threatened Haribo and supermarket chain Kaufland with poisoned products. In May, the prosecution had formally charged the suspect. Now, police disclosed more information on the case, including how the pensioner tried to mislead law enforcement authorities by pretending to be an Islamic extremist.
In December 2016, Willi K., a 74-year-old pensioner from Dortmund, Germany, threatened to poison products of Haribo and Kaufland with cyanide if the two companies didn’t pay the defendant one million euros, court documents state. The suspect allegedly attached signs to various products of the two companies, reading “careful, poison”. Police information reported that the 74-year-old left these goods in multiple stores. The investigation revealed that Haribo Gold Bears and Kaufland branded pizzas were the main targets of the defendant. According to the prosecution, the man placed an order on the dark web in an attempt to purchase cyanide, however, the pensioned never received the toxic substance. Police reported that the man paid 50 euros for the substance.
“Either you pay me a million euros in bitcoins within the next ten days, or I poison your products with cyanide,” the text of the blackmail letters goes by.
As Bastian Sczech, spokesman for the district court of Bonn, confirmed, the retiree will soon be responsible charges including predatory blackmail in three cases, and damage to property in front of a large criminal chamber.
“The accusation is still relatively fresh,” Sczech said.
According to the investigators, the “blackmailing career” of the pensioner started in August 2016, when he demanded 320,000 euros from the discount store Lidl. In order to substantiate his threat, he distributed, according to the accusation, nineteen doses of butyric acid in meat, fish, and ice-creams in nine branches of the chain. After the threat was made, Lidl denied to pay to the suspect and immediately informed the police. The property damage to the refrigerators, which had become unusable by the butyric acid, should amount to more than 10,000 euros. Butyric acid is present in, and is the main distinctive smell of, human vomit. It has an unpleasant smell and acrid taste, with a sweetish aftertaste similar to ether.
Since butyric acid has no danger to life, and the cyanide, which the pensioner ordered from the dark web never arrived so he could not use it, the prosecution stated that the blackmail attempts of the 74-year-old did not pose danger to the public. A spokesperson for Haribo said that the company showed full cooperation with law enforcement authorities in the case. Referring to the police report, he emphasized in his statement that there is no danger to the consumers.
Police reported that the suspect had sent his demands in mail via the national postal service at first, and then by email. Shortly after the threat was made, the affected companies alerted the police. During the course of the investigation, law enforcement authorities managed to track back the registered mail the pensioner sent out to Kaufland and Haribo. Investigators identified the blackmailer from a surveillance camera footage as he tried to mail his threats to the two companies in a post office in Eschweiler. Additionally, police also managed to find out the IP address of the 74-year-old. By knowing the identity and the location of the defendant, police officers arrested the suspect on Christmas Eve in Würzburg.
After the pensioner was arrested, he confessed. He admitted everything to the police, including his threats he made in August 2016 to the discount chain Lidl. The 74-year-old reportedly said that he had financial difficulties, that’s why he threatened companies with poisoned products.
Defender Thomas Ohm said that his client receives a pension of approximately 180 euros, while his wife gets about 900 euros. The lawyer claimed that the amount the two pensioners receive “is not close enough to live on”. According to Ohm, when a doctor visited the 74-year-old, he did not have enough funds to purchase the medicine the doctor prescribed for him. At the time, the pensioner only had 3.41 euros, which was not enough to buy his drugs. That was the point when the defendant became so desperate that he decided to extort companies, including Lidl, Kaufland, and Haribo, the lawyer stated. Ohm added that his client never intended to hurt anyone.
Since the pensioner does not pose any risk to the public, law enforcement authorities released him from custody in February. He is currently facing a prison sentence between one and 15 years for predatory blackmail and damage to property.
According to the news publication Focus Online, the 74-year-old told investigators he read about a couple in the newspaper who tried to extort money from Lidl with bomb threats. However, according to the suspect’s confession, bomb threats were too extreme for him, that’s why he decided to go for butyric acid.
The defendant also admitted that he tried to mislead the investigators. In the blackmail letters, he intentionally used bad German and ended with “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”).
“I wanted to give the impression that Islamists were at work, wanted to confuse the investigators,” the pensioner admitted to the police.
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