German tycoon Adolf Merckle commits suicideGerman tycoon Adolf Merckle commits suicide

German billionaire Adolf Merckle, assailed by financial turmoil and struggling to salvage his business empire, has killed himself, his family said on Tuesday.

"The desperate situation of his companies caused by the financial crisis, the uncertainties of the last few weeks and his powerlessness to act, have broken the passionate family entrepreneur and he took his own life," a family statement said.

Prosecutors in the southern German town of Ulm, near Merckle's home, said the 74-year-old died when a train struck him late on Monday. There was no sign anyone else was involved, they said.

Merckle was ranked as the world's 94th richest person in 2008 according to Forbes magazine and his family controls a number of German companies including cement maker HeidelbergCement and generic drug company Ratiopharm, but its empire was rocked last year by wrong-way bets made on shares in carmaker Volkswagen.

Banking sources had told Reuters the family lost hundreds of millions of euros on investments, with losses of about 400 million euros ($539.4 million) on Volkswagen shares alone.

It has been in talks for weeks with banks to renegotiate loans.

Shares in HeidelbergCement were off 5 percent at 31.70 euros at 10:47 a.m. EST, having dropped to 29.16 euros earlier in the session.

German billionaire Merckle's business conglomerate

German billionaire Adolf Merckle, who killed himself late on Monday, headed a business empire with about 100,000 employees and 30 billion euros ($40.2 billion) in annual sales.

Here are his family's main investments:

** Phoenix Pharmahandel, the largest drugs wholesaler in Germany and second-biggest in Europe after Celesio, has about 22,000 staff and annual sales of 21.6 billion euros.

** HeidelbergCement is Germany's largest cement maker with 68,000 employees and an annual revenue of about 11 billion euros. Merckle's investment companies VEM Vermoegensverwaltung and Spohn Cement hold almost 79 percent of the company and Schwenk Beteiligungen GmbH & Co. KG, a company linked to his wife Ruth, holds a further 6.9 percent.

** Ratiopharm is the world's fourth-largest generic drugmaker and the first to produce copies of off-patent drugs in Germany. The company, fully owned by the Merckle family, posted sales of 1.8 billion euros last year and has about 5,400 employees.

** VEM Group, bought by Merckle in 1997, includes three makers of electric engines as well as Keulahuette, one of Germany's oldest foundries, with combined annual sales of about 280 million euros and 1,520 staff.

** Kaessbohrer, a maker of ski slope grooming vehicles, is 89 percent controlled by the Merckle family. The company posted 183.4 million in sales in the fiscal year 2006/07 and has 455 employees.

** Merckle also holds a stake in Zollern GmbH & Co., which makes drivetrains, foundry equipment and engineering components. The company posted sales of 530 million euros in the fiscal year 2007/08 and has 3,000 staff.

** Wuerttembergische Leinenindustrie said it lost more than half of its capital last month due to losses on securities. The company was forced to call an extraordinary shareholder meeting to approve restructuring measures.

** Some of Merckle's numerous holding companies bear names such as Koetitz Leather and Oilcloth Factories or Pommeranian Provincial Sugar Refinery, reminiscent of traditional German manufacturing houses rather than investment vehicles.

[Source: Reuters, Frankfurt, 06Jan09]

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