German beer baron's death sparks inheritance battle

Fri Sep 30, 2011 10:51am EDT

* Beer baron's death investigated after son's allegations

* Court names 28-year-old wife sole heir to fortune

* 90-year-old beer baron changed will after marriage

By Victoria Bryan

FRANKFURT, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Investigations are continuing into the death of a 90-year-old German multi-millionaire who died shortly after marrying a 26-year-old model who inherited his beer-brewing fortune, Frankfurt state prosecutors said on Friday.

Bruno Schubert, who made his millions with his family brewery Henninger, married Meharit Kifle, a Belgian model of Ethiopian origin, in August 2009 just months after his first wife had died.

A Frankfurt court on Thursday named Kifle sole heir of his entire 18 million euro ($25 mln) estate.

Prosecutors are investigating the circumstances of his death following allegations made by Schubert's 64-year-son Hanns Peter Nerger that the beer baron died of dehydration or insufficient treatment, rather than natural causes.

In an interview last week with German tabloid Bild, Kifle denied the allegations and she said she lovingly cared for him right up to the minute he died in October 2010.

"We're still investigating and there's still a fair bit to do," a spokeswoman for the Frankfurt state prosecutor said. "Some witnesses have been interviewed."

After his death at the age of 90 in October last year, a battle for Schubert's fortune erupted between his widow, now 28, and his son, Nerger.

The case has electrified Germany's tabloid media and is reminiscent of the late Anna Nicole Smith, a former topless dancer and Playmate, who married Texas billionaire J. Howard Marshall in 1994 when she was 26 and he 89.

Marshall died 14 months after they married and the legal battle over his inheritance was settled this year.

BEDSIDE VIDEOS

In Germany, Nerger said Schubert abruptly broke off contact with all friends and family following his marriage to Kifle, whom he met in a bar where she worked as a cocktail waitress.

Kifle has taken the unusual step of releasing a bedside video showing her and medical staff caring for him right up to his death.

A Frankfurt state court on Thursday ruled Schubert's widow was the rightful heir to his fortune and dismissed calls to postpone any ruling pending the outcome of the separate investigation by prosecutors into his death.

The beer baron had originally planned to leave his fortune to the Schubert Foundation before he changed his will following his marriage to Kifle.

The Schubert Foundation, which supports science through grants and awards, will appeal the decision, Manfred Niekisch, chairman of the board of trustees, told Reuters.

"We are convinced of our legal position and will therefore appeal," Nerger said in an email to Reuters.

The court in Frankfurt on Thursday said Schubert had rescinded his previous will and named his second wife to be his sole heir on the condition that she care for him until his death.

"Because the conditions for the claimant were met according to the view of the court, she thus inherits," the court ruled. ($1 = 0.733 euros) (Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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