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Tue 6 Jan 2009 09:06 PM

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Recession drives German billionaire to suicide

World's 94th richest person, Adolf Merckle, takes his own life as business empire crumbles.

German billionaire Adolf Merckle, buffeted 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.

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