Media reports speculate on fate of missing German billionaire

Karl-Erivan Haub, the former head of German retail giant Tengelmann Group, disappeared at an Alpine ski resort six years ago. Now, German broadcaster RTL claims that the businessman, who had long been declared dead, could still be alive and may have secretly worked for Russia.

Haub was last seen in April 2018 in Zermatt, Switzerland, where he was preparing for a ski race. He vanished without a trace after taking a ski lift up a mountain alone. A six-day search operation involving five helicopters and several specialized rescue teams yielded no results. The then-58-year-old’s body has not been found.

The businessman and married father of two was officially pronounced dead by a Cologne court three years later, in 2021, after his younger brother, Christian, who took over his business empire, swore under oath that he had seen no indications that his relative could still be alive.

Now, Liv von Boetticher, an RTL journalist, claims that Karl-Ervian Haub may still be alive. Evidence the reporter claims to have collected over a three-year investigation “demonstrates convincingly” that the businessman could have “deliberately staged his disappearance” and that at least some members of his family were well aware of that. The broadcaster also released a series of podcasts detailing von Boetticher’s investigation.

The reporter claimed in Stern magazine that Christian had initiated an internal Tengelmann Group investigation after his brother’s disappearance and, later, had also hired several private investigative companies, including ones based in Russia. The journalist also stated that she’d personally seen photos of the businessman, taken in Moscow in February 2021 by some of the private investigators hired by his brother.

”No evidence” of an accident was found at the site in Switzerland of Haub’s now-alleged disappearance, von Boetticher told German broadcaster n-tv, adding that the track had instead “led to Russia.” According to the journalist, the businessman had talked extensively to a Russian woman identified as Veronika Ermilova, before vanishing without a trace. Haub had reportedly called her phone more than a dozen times in three days before going missing. Von Boetticher claimed the woman was his “mistress” and was linked to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).

According to the reporter, the two were also frequently “in the same places at the same time” over a number of years. In 2008, they were both in Moscow and Sochi within a few days. In 2009, they traveled from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the same train. They also made simultaneous short trips to the same destinations in 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2017, von Boetticher discovered.

The journalist claimed further that the German billionaire had other connections in Russia, including banker Andrey Suzdaltsev and Russian-American businessman Sergey Grishin. The latter had previously purported to have been “robbing” the Russian banking system in the 1990s.

Von Boetticher told Die Welt last year that Haub “could have worked as a kind of agent of influence for Russia in Germany,” adding that she also was in the FSB’s crosshairs, because of her investigation.

In 2023, RTL journalists filed a complaint with the Cologne Prosecutor’s Office, accusing Haub’s brother Christian of having made false statements before the court. German law enforcement officials initially refused to open an investigation but changed their stance after the reporters approached the Prosecutor General’s Office, which ordered that a probe be launched.

Earlier this month, the Prosecutor’s Office confirmed to news agency dpa that proceedings had been initiated against Christian Haub for allegedly lying to the court. Law enforcement officials specifically stated that they had no reason to review a court decision, under which Karl-Erivan Haub was declared dead.

Russian officials have not commented on the situation. Veronika Ermilova, who was contacted by the Russian media, denounced the RTL report as an “unverified fake.” She said she was “not living with a billionaire” and denied any connections to any security services.

Ermilova said she had previously worked for a St Petersburg-based event agency that had dealings with Haub. A lawyer for Christian Haub also told journalists that there was “no truth” in accusations against his client, adding that they were based on “incorrect information.”

RT could not independently verify von Boetticher’s claims.