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Buried millions triggers Austrian treasure hunt

By Thair Shaikh, CNN
Treasure hunter Walter Fritz searches for the buried cash in the Schranzerwald forest near Ebbs, Austria.
Treasure hunter Walter Fritz searches for the buried cash in the Schranzerwald forest near Ebbs, Austria.
  • Up to €5 million said to be buried by financial advisor, says Austrian broadcaster ORF
  • Augustine G. embezzled the fortune while working for German bank BDA
  • Arrested after archaeologist found buried suitcase with money and passport
  • Austrian law allows treasure hunters to keep 10 per cent of the banknotes they find

(CNN) -- Treasure hunters armed with shovels and metal detectors have descended on a sleepy Austrian town in search of up to €5 million ($6.18 million) said to have been buried there by a fraudulent German financial advisor, says ORF, the Austrian broadcasting corporation.

The fortune is believed to have been buried in aluminium cases by Augustine G. in wooded mountainous areas surrounding the small town of Ebbs near the German border, say police.

Augustine, a 52-year-old whose full name has not been officially released by Austrian or German police, was arrested when an amateur archaeologist found a suitcase containing €150,000 ($185,000) and Augustine's passport buried near Innsbruck, the capital of the Tyrol region in the west of Austria.

At his 2002 trial Augustine said the €5 million fortune he had embezzled from investors while working for the BDA bank had been taken by the Italian mafia.

Location of Ebbs in Austria
  • Austria
  • Innsbruck

During his trial, German police said they suspected he had hidden the rest of the money because they had determined that he had bought several aluminium cases which they believed he might have used to bury the cash.

Augustine was jailed for the maximum six-years and is now living in Bavaria in Germany.

Investigators have now publicized the case in the hope that Augustine will tell them where the money is buried.

The ploy has failed but it has tempted treasure hunters to travel to Ebbs, population 5,000, and dig in the hope of finding their fortune.

Austrian law allows treasure hunters to keep 10 percent of any banknotes they find.

The DBA Bank has also said that anyone who finds the €5 million will be rewarded €660,000 ($815,000).

Jurgen Pettinger, an ORF correspondent based in Innsbruck, told CNN: "When (Augustine) was released from prison BDA hired private detectives who followed him into the woods... it sounds a little crazy, but that's what happened. No one knows the exact amount of money buried."

Augustine told police after his release in 2008 that he had managed to convince Mafia bosses to pay him back €100,000.

The banknotes he handed over to investigators were moldy and wet, according to investigators, Pettinger said.

The treasure hunters at the site include locals, and more people are expected to converge on the area as the story spreads.

"They need to have a lot of luck to find the money, the police told me. There are many locals going there to look and I think in the next days more people will come to look for money. I think some will come from Germany also," Pettinger said.

While treasure hunters will be keeping their fingers crossed, Ebbs may benefit from an influx of visitors. The local tourist office is already planning an official tourist trail, Pettinger said.