The Disco King and the Robber

Three-time Oscar winner Giorgio Moroder has to stand trial in a bizarre case: his bank advisor had transferred more than two million euros to him - but they were stolen. And the world star refuses to return the money.

BY INGO MALCHER - article appeared on DIE ZEIT.


The Cizeta-Moroder V16T is not a sports car. It is a monster. Sixteen cylinders, four pop-up headlights, 542 hp. Only ten of them were ever built.

The 1988 prototype was up for auction in January of this year at Sotheby's in Phoenix. The car designed by the "godfather of disco music," as he occasionally calls himself, Giorgio Moroder, and the former Lamborghini engineer Claudio Zampolli. For a long time, the vehicle with the chassis number P-001 was hidden under a tarp in an underground garage in Beverly Hills. The minimum bid at Sotheby's was 300,000 U.S. dollars, but bidding quickly soared past 700,000, 800,000, and 900,000 U.S. dollars. The final hammer fell at 1.2 million dollars. 1.2 million dollars for a car that doesn't fit into a regular parking space. But it sounds like a fighter jet.

According to Sotheby's, the seller is the Italian Giorgio Moroder, who, according to the auction house, had owned the car for a long time. This is remarkable because the producer of Donna Summer (On the Radio), Blondie (Call Me), and Cher (Bad Love) said in April 2016 when questioned by the public prosecutor in Geneva: "I don't have a car."

The auction could now shake his credibility — and the million-dollar sum for the car could arouse greed. Moroder is currently on trial in Bolzano, and the parties have until Wednesday next week to comment. Moroder is being sued by the German start-up founder Tilman Reißfelder. He wants 2.2 million euros plus interest from the world star. More precisely, he wants this amount back. The money had been transferred to Moroder by the now convicted fraudster from Reißfelder's account. But Moroder has persistently refused to pay back even one cent for years. Neither Moroder nor his management responded to a DIE ZEIT inquiry.

Behind the case is a gigantic bank robbery — in which the perpetrator shared the loot with friends and business partners. One of them was Giorgio Moroder. The case is being tried in courts in Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, and Italy, wherever parts of the loot turned up. The robbery had been committed by a client advisor from the wealth management department of the noble and now liquidated Geneva private bank Hottinger. Fabien G. needed no gun to commit the robbery, but only his imagination and charm. This is how he relieved his clients of a total of around 50 million euros. G. liked to have a good time, travel around the world in private jets, and knew how to launder money. But whoever spends a lot of money also needs a lot. So he helped himself to his well-off clients’ wallets and emptied their accounts. G. was sentenced in Geneva in March this year to three years in prison for fraud, money laundering, and forgery of documents.

Since then, at least it has been clarified who caused the damage. But victims like Reißfelder have never got their lost money back. Reißfelder is a programmer who once sold a start-up to TripAdvisor. He put ten million dollars of his proceeds in an account at Bank Hottinger, believing the money was safe there. A fatal mistake. Little did he know that the account statements G. was sending him had been forged. When the fraud came to light in February 2013, there was precisely 457,562.88 euros in Reißfelder's account instead of the two-digit million amount. "That was a shock," he says.

He found out where his millions were, thanks to the meticulous work of a private investigator. The results were somewhat surprising. Part of his money had gone to Moroder, who had business connections with G. In emails to a secretary at the bank, the consultant simply instructed G. to make the payments. Thus, in June 2012, he wrote: "Dear M., could you please arrange the same payment of 150,000 again. This time in euros please. Let’s see if it works. Payee: Giorgio Giovanni Moroder". It worked, and the amount of 150,000 euros was credited to Moroder's account at Raiffeisenbank Kastelruth in South Tyrol. Sometimes the money ended up in his account at City National Bank in Los Angeles, sometimes at Credit Suisse in Zurich, and sometimes in his home country at Raiffeisenbank Kastelruth. was Amounts varied from 300,000 dollars to 100,000 euros. There were 15 transfers between August 2010 and November 2012 totaling 2.2 million euros.

The fact that the money was sent by a company from the British Virgin Islands never bothered Moroder. The company belongs to Reißfelder, who manages its account. Moroder was unfamiliar with the company, but apparently this never bothered him, either. According to court documents, he explained that he had also been a client of Hottinger’s and had assumed that the payments were his investment income. Even the fact that the purpose of the transfer was indicated as "loan" in ten of the payments never caused him to become suspicious. Moroder told the public prosecutor in Geneva in April 2016 that he could not remember that the purpose of the transfer was "loan."

When it comes to money, Moroder is an artist, not a businessman. At least, that's how he presents it. In legal documents, he points to the three Oscars he has won. He wrote the scores for Top Gun, Flashdance, and The Neverending Story. When questioned at the Geneva prosecutor's office in April 2016, he said he did not know much about financial matters. He was also a victim of advisor G. and had also lost money.

In any case, the question is whether there is a lot that can still be recovered from Moroder. During the investigation into the fraud case, Moroder told the public prosecutor that he had "more or less completely spent" the 2.2 million received from Reißfelder. And that "in order to survive," he was working as a DJ again. In 2018, he sold his house in his home village of Sankt Ulrich to a notary. According to the purchase contract, the property had been valued at 4.45 million euros. However, Moroder still lives in the house, at least he did as of May this year.

After the house this year, it was the turn of the Cizeta-Moroder V16T, which he had once failed to mention when questioned by prosecution. But during his appearance on the German Markus Lanz talk show in January 2019, Moroder blabbed it. That was very careless, because it aroused Reißfelder's interest. The rare prototype could perhaps have been monetized, and the debt, collected. But that proved to be more difficult than expected. First, the car's trail led to California, where it turned up at a meeting of supercar fanatics. Finally, private investigators discovered it in an underground garage in Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive.

But that didn't get Reißfelder any further. Because the ownership structure was also obscure, it was not clear who actually owned the car. At first, it looked like Moroder was no longer the owner. The only certain thing was that the Cizeta-Moroder V16T was sold by Moroder on 16 September 2018 to a company with the peculiar name Green Alps LLC in the U.S. state of Montana. The price was also peculiar. According to the purchase agreement, the company paid ten dollars for the prototype. Since then, the Cizeta-Moroder V16T had belonged to Green Alps, which registered it as a boat. It was not until Sotheby's advertised the vehicle for auction at the beginning of the year that the owner was made public: Giorgio Moroder, who could then probably pay off at least part of his debts with the proceeds.