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Banker suspected of torching R250m home commits suicide

World

London - A multi-millionaire banker who was quizzed by police over a fire at his £15 million (around R248 million) stately home has killed himself.

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Michael Treichl was found dead on Friday – two months after 500-year-old Parnham House in Dorset was gutted in a devastating blaze.

The 69-year-old Austrian financier was arrested and questioned on suspicion of starting the fire in April but was later released without charge.

A spokesman for the family confirmed Mr Treichl had suffered from severe depression and took his own life in Geneva last week. Described as a ‘devoted family man’, he leaves behind his wife Emma, two teenage children and two older step-children.

Grade I listed Parnham House, in the picturesque town of Beaminster, is one of the most historically important buildings in Britain and was acquired by the Treichls for £4million in 2001.

But it was almost destroyed by a mystery blaze on April 15. Some 100 firefighters were unable to save anything except the exterior walls, and Mr Treichl’s prized collection of armour, hunting trophies and British portraits were all destroyed.

Mr Treichl was released by detectives without bail ‘pending further investigation’. A spokesman for Dorset Police said yesterday that further enquiries were not focused on him. There were suggestions that silver antiques and other valuables had been piled outside an entrance, raising suspicions. A jerry can carrying as much as 25 litres of fuel was also said to have been found on the lawn.

Investment banker Mr Treichl had been adamant he was not to blame and told a newspaper he was ‘devastated’ at the loss of the family pile, which had been his ‘life’s work’.

Before the banker’s death speculation was mounting in financial circles that his hedge fund business was in trouble.

In a statement, his family said: ‘Michael Treichl sadly passed away on Friday, June 16, having suffered from severe depression. Michael enjoyed a long and distinguished career in finance. He was a devoted family man and husband to his wife Emma, their two children, and his two step-children.’

The banker and his wife, 54, rare said to have spent £10million restoring Parnham House after buying it two years into their marriage. He would fly in and out of the estate by helicopter while Mrs Treichl, a former Vogue model, worked with Clarence House interior designer Robert Kime to turn it into a modern family home. The project included indoor and outdoor swimming pools, stables, gym and a cinema. There were also generous rooms for their children Max, 17, and 15-year-old Charlotte – and Mrs Treichl’s children from her first marriage, Carlo, 21, and Sofia, 26.

Parnham House was unoccupied at the time of the blaze as Mr Treichl was in London and his wife and children were in Provence, France. Mrs Treichl said her husband had rushed to be at the scene the day after the blaze.

‘He was gutted, very emotional,’ she said. ‘He could barely speak.’

Parnham House was where US commanders drew up plans for the Allied invasion of mainland Europe during the Second World War – and Dwight Eisenhower had once dined there.

Hedge fund manager Mr Treichl, who belonged to a family of distinguished Austrian bankers, was a leading light in hedge fund Audley Capital Advisors LLP.

A German business magazine once described him as a ‘global player of our time’. It said he was ‘a rather unremarkable man at first glance, slim, quiet, restrained, with surprisingly expressive eyes’. He enjoyed heli-ski tours, tennis, horse riding and hunting.

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