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Auto Tuner Uwe Gemballa Found Dead in South Africa

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On: Wed, Oct 6, 2010 at 4:09PM | By: Chris Weiss

Auto Tuner Uwe Gemballa Found Dead in South Africa

Those that follow all forms of automotive news on a daily basis probably remember that Uwe Gemballa, founder and owner of the Gemballa tuning house, disappeared in Africa back in early February. The company bearing his name briefly shut down in the spring, only to be reopened under a new corporate structure headed by Andreas Schwarz. Meanwhile, Uwe Gemballa has remained missing in action.

Well, Uwe Gemballa has been found, and as many probably feared, the worst has been realized. The German tuner was murdered.

The saga surrounding Gemballa's disappearance was shrouded in international mystique. The German businessman disappeared on a trip to South Africa, where he had gone to speak with potential investors. The disappearance came in the midst of a pending bankruptcy that loomed over his tuning firm, as well as official German investigations into money laundering and tax evasion, so there was much question as to why, how, and where he had disappeared. Gemballa, or someone purporting to be him, had called his wife Christine a day after he'd arrived in South Africa and asked her to transfer a large sum of money into another bank account. He spoke English, which was strange since they typically spoke in German.

During the months that followed, it was thought that Gemballa might have been kidnapped, but little official information was reported about his whereabouts. His wife hired a private investigator to look into the matter.

Gemballa was found last week shot in the head and wrapped in cellophane. His body was found just west of Pretoria, South Africa. His hands were tied up behind his back, and it was clear that he'd been murdered execution-style, indicating a deeper set of motivations and events.

Media reports out of South Africa mold a tale of international intrigue worthy of a novel or James Bond film. The reports indicate that organized crime was behind his death and that he was killed for debts. The meeting behind his original visit to the country was to set-up a retail network which was to be used to funnel money into the country for laundering. The money was to be hidden in the panels of Gemballa's cars. As detailed in the reports, he had traveled to South Africa with a business partner, Czech businessman Radovan Krejcir. Some reports indicate that Krejcir may have ordered the hit that took Gemballa's life.

Of course, investigations are ongoing. Two German police officers are in South Africa to assist with the investigation. Two people have reportedly been taken into custody in connection with these investigations.

The investigations may run much deeper than Gemballa's murder. According to the Sunday Times, a newspaper in South Africa, police may "blow wide open an international syndicate—stretching from Switzerland and Germany to Johannesburg—involving alleged money laundering, tax evasion, imported cars stuffed with cash and contract killings."

If you're not familar with Gemballa's work, he founded Gemballa in 1981. The company was known best for its Porsche tunes. In my personal opinion, Gemballa was a very hot-or-cold firm with some strikingly beautiful tunes and some rather atrocious models. Last year, for instance, the company released the Porsche Mirage GT Matte Edition, a car that looked as sinister as the circumstances surrounding Gemballa's disappearance, and the Mirage GT Gold Edition, a car that was among the most tawdry tunes of the year, in my humble estimation.

As for the Gemballa firm, it came under new ownership as of August and is currently working on several cars including Panamera, Cayenne, and Ferrari Enzo tunes. It is supposed to release its first tune under its new corporate structure sometime this month.

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