Transcript: 80. The Killing of Édouard Stern | Switzerland

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When wealthy banker Édouard Stern failed to show up for an important meeting, his colleagues were concerned that he had suffered a heart attack, as he had been under a lot of pressure. It was unlike Édouard to miss work and despite several attempts, they could not get a hold of him.

On the 1st of March 2005, they went to his penthouse apartment in one of Geneva’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, on Rue Adrien-Lachenal, to see if he was home. What they discovered was an horrific scene. The body of Édouard Stern was in his bedroom, lying in a pool of blood. He had been shot by his own gun, for which he had secured a concealed firearms permit.

At the time of his death, Stern was embroiled in a dirty legal battle. He told associates that he had received multiple death threats and that he was sure there was surveillance on him. He increased the security in his already-secure apartment, but that did not seem to be enough.

At 50, a member of one of the most prominent families in Europe was dead. His three children left without a father. 

But from the start, police felt his death was not related to his high profile job. The circumstances in which he was found, revealed something about his private life. Something he would not have wanted anyone to know. He was clad in a skin-coloured latex suit and other sado-masochistic elements were discovered in his bedroom. 

Before long police came onto the trail of a significant woman in Stern’s life. Her name, was Cécile Brossard. 

>>Intro Music

If you were to look up the term ‘born with a silver spoon in his mouth’, seeing a picture of Édouard Stern would explain it. He came into life Neuilly-Sur-Seine in 1954, the son of banker Antoine Jean Stern and socialite Christiane LaRoche. The Stern family, a long line of bankers, own a private bank called Banque Stern. 

After high school Édouard attended ESSEC Business School in Paris where he completed a degree in finance. He graduated in 1977 and, at the age of 22, joined the family bank – the path of wealth and success paved ahead of him. 

But he was not a freeloader – far from it. When he stepped into his job, things were not looking that great for the bank. He was forward-thinking and went against the norm. Thanks to him he saved the bank from bankruptcy. He had to resort to desperate measures, thouh, staging a coup against his own father – with the help of his uncles and his grandmother. The press reported on the takeover and referred to Édouard as ‘enfant terrible’ – the terrible child who stole the bank right from under his father’s nose. Because of the coup, his father did not speak to him for 15 years. They only reconciled at his father’s deathbed, sources close to the family say it was only a ‘partial reconcilliation’.

In 1983, Édouard Stern married Béatrice David-Weill, daughter of Michel David-Weill, president of Lazard Frères – one of the largest investment banks in the world. Beatrice was an art-historian and Édouard shared her love of art.

In 1985 , with the family back strong as ever, he sold it to Lebanese investors for the handsome amount of 300 million francs. Cleverly, he added a clause to the contract which gave him copyright of the Stern name. So as soon as the sale was finalized he started a new bank, using his last name, called Banque Stern. Many high rolling clients followed Stern and before long his bank had a list of clients some could only dream of. 

Three years later, he sold the second bank for 1.75 billion francs to Switzerland’s Societe des Banques Suisses, which later merged with UBS. Because of these lucrative transactions, Édouard Stern became a force to be reckoned with. In the 80s, the Stern family was named the 38th richest in France by Forbes. 

With boundless wealth, Stern took some time to travel and used his money to finance his hobby of acquiring contemporary art. His career was far from over as he still moved around within the high ranks of the banking world, working at Lazard Frères with his father in law between 1992 and 1998. He was set to take over one of the most prominent investment banks in the word, but he was forced to resign after a disagreement with Michel David-Weill.  

This was a knock for Édouard, who was used to the pace of an upward trajectory in his career. He had only worked with the best of the best in world renowned financial institutions. But he was not the type of person who would disappear into the background. When he left Lazard – with a handsome severence package in his back pocket – Édouard  decided to start his own thing. 

In 1997 he founded Investment Real Returns (IRR) – a private equity fund which invested in major international companies or exciting new ventures. It had all the hallmarks of success, but it was not quite the big league Édouard was accustomed to. Sure he was making money, but for someone like Édouard, it wasn’t always about the money.

He was not averse to taking risks and his business deals have been noted to be ‘brilliant’ by people in the industry. Some say that Stern single-handedly perfected the art of engineering hostile takeovers. But in order to get what he wanted; he was not always the most pleasant person to be around. Sure, he could be extremely charming and persuasive, that was a part of his success, but he also had a dark side. A fellow prominent French banker was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, saying this about Stern:

“When things didn’t go exactly as he wished, he was capable of extraordinary verbal violence.”

He was outspoken about French high society and customs of the uber-wealthy and often attended important meetings unshaven, without a tie, wearing sneakers. This sort of behaviour was most definitely frowned upon in the French business world and regarded as being disrespectful. Although people saluted his business acumen, many felt that his abrasive manner was uncalled for. He was known to shout down at employees, swearing at them and calling them morons. He had absolutely zero tolerance for stupidity and mediocrity. If someone didn’t meet his expectation at work, he didn’t hesitate to fire them on the spot. He was often unreasonable, asking someone to do something they did not know how to do. If they didn’t deliver, they were out.

At social gatherings his arrogance shone through and it was evident that he thought he was smarter and better than most. Yet he commanded attention, he was undeniably charismatic and people respected him still.

In 1998, after 15 years of marriage, Édouard and Beatrice divorced. They had three children together and Édouard continued being a generous albeit absent father. Close friends claim that they had split the year before, but kept their separation a secret because of the explosive atmosphere surrounding Édouard at Lazard. After the divorce, he left France for Switzerland, to be in the heart of all the banking action, Geneva.

Throughout his marriage to Beatrice, Édouard had a string of affairs – with both men and women. He travelled a lot for work and he was like a sailor with a lover in every port, so to speak. He lavished his mistresses with expensive gifts and was not overly discreet about his relationships. Although many people assumed theirs was a marriage of convenience and power, Beatrice loved Édouard deeply and preferred to turn a blind eye to his infidelity.

One woman who became more than just an occasional lover, was Russian-born, former mis USSR, Julie Lemigova. They met in secret in hotels all over the world for many years. In 1999, Julia gave birth to a baby boy, Maximilien – she said that Édouard was the father. However, Édouard’s legal advisors discovered that she was seeing two other men at the same time and questioned the baby’s paternity. But there was no doubt, the son was Édouard’s.

Sadly, when little Maximillien was only 5 months old, he died a vicious death. He was rushed to hospital one night and passed away shortly after. The cause of death was ruled to be due to brain injuries. This happened only days after Édouard employed a Bulgarian nanny to take care of the baby. The nanny disappeared immediately after the tragic incident and has never been found since. Julia accused Édouard of hiring the nanny to kill her son. 

An investigation followed, but there was never enough evidence to prove Édouard had played any part in the boy’s death and the case was closed. 

Meanwhile, Édouard’s business interests were flourishing. He was approached by French pharmaceutical company, Rhodia, and invested a large amount of money. This was a decision that he would live to regret. 

In 2001, he met a woman called Cécile Broussard at a dinner party at an upscale art gallery in Paris, hosted by a mutual friend. Cécile came from a vastly different background to the jet set family life Édouard was familiar with. Her parents divorced when she was young and she lived with her mother who suffered from depression. When Cécile was a teenager her mother attempted suicide and Cécile and her sister moved in with her dad who lived in a less-than-glorious neighbourhood on the outskirts of Paris. 

Her father was not accustomed to having a child in the house and for the most part Cécile was left to her own devices. When he did spend time with her, he tried to cultivate an appreciation  of the arts, but did not always go about it in an appropriate manner. Cécile watched Stanley Kubrik’s  ‘A Clockwork Orange’ with her dad at the age of eight. At the time, the film was X-rated. 

She never had any formal tertiary education. When she left school she went to the UK where she worked as an au-pair and a waitress for a while. That didn’t last too long and she returned to Paris where she worked as a waitress at Charles de Gaulle International Airport. Her father told journalists that he suspected most of her income was due to sex work. Cécile denied this and said the fact that she could purchase and renovate a house on minimum wage was thanks to help from her father and a friend. 

She met herbologist and massage therapist Xavier Gillet in 1996 and in 1998 they got married in Las Vegas. They never formalized their marriage in Europe and the legitimacy of their union was questioned in later years. Xavier lived in their home in Montreux, Switzerland while Cécile spent a lot of time at her home in Paris.

Cécile was a very sensual woman and expressed her sexual desires through poetry and sculpture. She also had many extramarital relationships to which Xavier either agreed or turned a blind eye. 

When Cécile Brossard met Édouard Stern, one of the most eligible divorcés in all of Europe, sparks flew. Not only did she come from a completely different world than Édouard, she was also 14 years younger than him. But that didn’t matter – their shared interest in the arts immediately drew them to each other. Then there was also another interest… Cécile was into sadomasochism. 

Before he met Cécile, the 50-year-old Édouard had never explored kinky sex. He had his fair share of indiscretions, but BDSM was new to him. She introduced him to a different world, sometimes acting as a match-maker of sorts, bringing women as well as men to his door. Édouard frequented BDSM nightclubs in Paris with Cécile – something he kept secret from most of his friends. 

Together they lived the high life, using his private plane to go on exotic trips. Édouard loved going to Africa on hunting trips and took her along to a private game reserve on one occasion. They also visited Siberia and Australia, mixing business trips with a bit of pleasure. 

Despite spending so much time together, Édouard managed to keep his affair with Cécile private – it was a mysterious relationship and he preferred to keep it at that. She lived in Paris for the most part, while he lived in Geneva. Although she had a key to his apartment, she did not stay with him when she visited. Instead she stayed at Xavier’s house, in her own room. Some of Édouard’s closest friends said that they knew about Cécile but they had never met her. He took her to some social gatherings as his ‘plus one’, but there were other women in his life too, so no one took much notice of Cécile. When he spoke about her to his friends, his nickname for her was ‘Latex’.

But the arrangement did not always work. He broke it off occasionally, but then went back to her. Sometimes she left him, but after he persisted with emails and phone calls, she would take him back again. It was a toxic, addictive relationship that neither one of them seemed to be able to walk away from.

Two years into their relationship, things were going catastrophically with Stern’s Rhodia investment. For someone like Édouard Stern, even losing a menial amount of money was a problem. He hated losing, he couldn’t handle it. And with Rhodia he stood to lose 90 Million Dollars. He was caught in a downward spiral of the company and he became convinced that he was misled when he was invited to invest. He was so serious about this, he filed a criminal complaint against the company, which kicked off a long and arduous legal battle.

With the help of a team of lawyers, Édouard Stern was fighting with some of the biggest names in business. The case took over his life and he obsessed about it day and night. He told close friends that he had received death threats and was convinced he was being followed. He feared for his life. Because of this he decided to purchase a couple of firearms for protection. It is not easy to obtain a gun license in Switzerland, but due to his circumstances a judge granted him a concealed weapon permit. He had three guns in various locations inside his penthouse. He showed Cécile where he kept it and encouraged her to familiarize herself with them, in case she had to use it.

His fears about being watched were not unfounded. One of his main associates who worked for IRR in New York discovered his home phone had been bugged. They were never able to establish who had placed the bug in the phone, but it was enough to make Stern believe he could not speak openly to anyone anymore.

The stress of dealing with multiple legal battles regarding Rhodia took up most of Édouard’s time. Cécile was not quite his main priority at this point and she did not like it. 

According to Cécile, to appease her, Édouard proposed to her in November 2004. To show her how serious he was about the proposal, Édouard said he was going to give her a million dollars. She waited for a couple of weeks, but no money was transferred. Cécile broke off the engagement and wrote him a letter saying that giving her the money would convince her of his undying love. Édouard made the transfer, but changed his mind and reversed the payment. Cécile was furious.

His lawyers would later state that once Édouard had transferred the money, Cécile disappeared. She would not answer her phone and nobody knew where she was. Convinced that he had been swindled, Édouard decided to freeze the funds.

Towards the end of February 2005, Édouard finally got a hold of Cécile and asked her to come to Geneva. They saw each other on the weekend of the 26th of February, but he did not want to talk about the issue of the Million Dollars. He agreed that they could discuss it on Monday night, the 28th and asked her to come over to his apartment. 

After work, he went out to dinner by himself, to one of his favourite Sushi restaurants. Then he headed home where had a conference call with his lawyers and another investor regarding the Rhodia case. The call took place between 7 and 8pm. When one of the lawyers tried to call him again at 9pm, there was no answer.

The next morning, Édouard did not show up to his 10:30am meeting with a former partner at Goldman Sachs. By 11am, it was time for his next meeting and there was still no sign of him. Sandy Koifman, a trader who worked closely with Édouard was concerned that something had happened to him. Together with Édouard’s assistant, they called his penthouse and his cell phone, but there was no answer. They called all local hospitals, but no one by the name of Édouard Stern had been admitted. Sandy Koifman arranged with the concierge of Édouard’s building to meet him at the penthouse and help him gain access with the spare key. 

At 2:30, Sandy and two assistants from work met the concierge and his wife (who was Édouard’s cleaner). They entered the apartment with a sense of dread. They called out his name, but there was no answer. It was quiet and puzzling seeing as his wallet and keys were still inside the home. Then they found him in his bedroom floor. He was wearing a skin-coloured latex suit covered his whole body, including his face. But it was obvious, judging by the amount of blood around his head on the floor that he was no longer alive.

The first person Sandy called was Édouard’s lawyer of 25 years. He said to him:

“Get your ass over to Geneva right now. Either I’ve just found Édouard’s dead body in his bedroom, which means you’ve got all sorts of administrative paperwork to handle, or I’ve found someone else’s body, in which case you’ve got a whole different set of problems to handle.’”

But it wasn’t somebody else, it was the body of Édouard Stern. Everyone experienced an immense feeling of disbelief – it was not his time yet, there was still so much he wanted to do. 

The first assumption of investigators and the group who discovered him was that it was a BDSM encounter gone-wrong. An unforeseen accident.

The news of Édouard’s death sent shockwaves through the international business community. Everyone knew who Édouard Stern was, a larger than life person, a force to be reckoned with – he seemed untouchable. It did not seem right that he could be dead at only 50 years of age… The media speculated that his murder was somehow related to his feud with Rhodia. Or perhaps corporate espionage or insider trading had something to do with it. There was even speculation that he had ties to the Russian mafia that had soured. Why he was killed, was anyone’s guess.

Police initiated a homicide investigation in one of the country’s most high profile deaths ever. Looking at his life, they learnt that, throughout the years, Stern has made an army of enemies, due to his ruthless approach to mergers and acquisitions. Was his death perhaps related to his work somehow? It could have been a disgruntled employee or a professional rival? It did not take long to find their first person of interest. 

But it was much simpler than that. All they had to do was look at CCTV footage from Édouard’s apartment building on the night of his murder. They saw a tall blonde woman arrive and sometime later she left again. No one else came or went into the penthouse on that Monday night.

But the woman was long gone… Cécile Brossard was in Sydney Australia. After a 24-hour journey, she checked herself into an airport hotel. She made a couple of phone calls, of which one was to her lawyer, instructing him to check her account regarding the payment from Édouard. She also called Édouard’s half-sister, Fabienne. When Fabienne told her about Édouard’s murder she was apparently shocked and gave her condolences.

Cécile also called Xavier and instructed him to wash his BMW MINI, the car she borrowed the day before. She did not offer an explanation. While in Sydney, she packaged some clothing – leather pants and a corset to her aunt and uncle in France.  

After spending less than 24 hours in Sydney, she boarded a plane and returned to Switzerland. During a lay-over in Singapore, she read about Édouard’s murder in a French newspaper and had a panic attack, screaming hysterically. An airport doctor gave her some sedatives and reluctantly agreed that she could continue her journey. Despite this outburst, she still managed to call back home while waiting for her connecting flight. She arranged with an aunt to pick her up from the airport. She also called her lawyer again, asking about the money.

Police questioned her as soon as she arrived back in Switzerland. In fact, they were waiting for her at customs. Cécile acted surprised and said she did not know who would have wanted to murder her lover. She said that she had dropped in at Édouard’s penthouse on the Monday night to say goodbye as she was heading out of town. She did not notice anything unusual. Something about her demeanour did not sit quite right with investigating officers and they decided to keep her under surveillance. She was one of few people with keys to Édouard’s apartment, which was significant as there were no signs of forced entry at the crime scene.

They also questioned Xavier Gillet, Cécile’s husband. They discovered that the couple had married in Las Vegas and never dissolved their union and although their relationship appeared to be platonic, he was technically still her husband. This made him a person of interest in her lover’s murder too. 

Cécile was not allowed to leave Switzerland as long as she was a person of interest and police tapped both her and Xavier’s phones. Police also studied CCTV footage on the streets surrounding Édouard’s apartment building and saw a BMW MINI, owned by Xavier, but driven by Cécile, speed off, away from the scene, on the night of the murder. And ultimately, they were able to match her fingerprints to prints found on the latex suit Édouard was wearing when he was killed.

Édouard Stern’s memorial service was held in his hometown of Paris. All the who’s who in world business attended. Beatrice and his children flew in from New York to pay their respects.

Police learnt more about the tumultuous affair between Édouard and Cécile and found out about the contentious Million Dollar payment. After his death, people close to Édouard said the understood the money was a down payment for eight original Chagall paintings Cécile was supposed to deliver, but hadn’t. 

Cécile said that this wasn’t true and insisted Édouard had given her the money as a proof of his devotion to her. He wanted to encourage her independence. She was claimed that she confused as to why he took it back and felt he did it so he could manipulate her further. 

Either way, faced with all the evidence against her, Cécile decided to confess to the murder. She told them exactly what happened on that fatal Monday night…

Cécile arrived at Édouard’s penthouse sometime after the conference phone call and the couple had an argument about the frozen million dollars. But Édouard was done fighting and changed the subject, charming Cécile to calm down and they ended up having sex. Which for them meant kinky sex, as was evident in the latex suit he was wearing at the time of his death.

What exactly happened between them that eventuated in Cécile shooting him, was eventually exposed in Cécile’s courtroom testimony. She said that while he was bound to the chair as part of their love making ritual, the argument flared up again. According to Cécile Édouard said: 

“A million dollars is a lot to pay for a whore.”

That is when she calmly walked to his bedside table, took a gun from a drawer and shot him. Then she took all three firearms he owned, gathered the spent shell casings, took her fetish gear with her and left, locking the door behind her. Emotional and frazzled she drove to Xavier’s home. On the way, she threw Édouard’s guns in Lake Geneva. 

When she arrived at Xavier’s place in Clarens, she told him that she had had a terrible fight with Édouard and wanted to go away for a while. She boarded a train, but growing impatient, she got off and convinced a taxi to drive her to Milan, four hours’ drive away. The trip reportedly cost her 800 Euros. On the way to Milan, she threw her key to Édouard’s apartment as well as the spent shell casings out the window.

When she reached the airport in Milan, it was 4:30am. Cécile asked the taxi driver to take her to Rome, but he refused. She lost it and pounded her fists on the taxi’s windows, hysterically. The driver drove off, leaving her. She waited in the cold until the first counter opened and bought a one-way ticket to Sydney Australia, as it was the farthest place away from Geneva. 

She was arrested and said that she intended to co-operate with the investigation. Police escorted her to Lake Geneva, where she pointed out the location where she disposed of the murder weapon. Police divers retrieved it on the same day.

After Édouard’s death, Cécile’s attorney appealed to the Stern family to make the funds available. In fact, in a letter to the family, he stated that releasing the funds would avoid further publicity regarding Édouard’s relationship with Cécile. The Stern family viewed this as a veiled threat and refused to communicate any further.

While on remand, Cécile was assessed by a psychiatrist who found that she knew right from wrong and was of sober mind when she pulled the trigger to kill Édouard. She showed signs of borderline personality disorder with narcissistic tendencies, but she was never delusional.

Awaiting trial she reportedly tried to commit suicide, but she was saved without ever really being at risk of losing her life.

At her trial, which started in June 2009, she dressed conservatively, in a grey suit, her hair in a bun. A range of witnesses testified about the nature of her relationship with Édouard. One of Cécile’s friends told the court that Édouard wanted to pay him to keep tabs on Cécile and supply him with information about everything she did. According to the friend, he was doing repairs at Cécile’s home one day when Édouard arrived. He said:

"She told me never to let him in. He arrived, asked me if she was there, I told her no. He pushed me and he came in. When she came back and she saw him, she ran out into the street. He chased her. Half an hour later, I saw them coming together, he was holding her arm tightly, she looked panicked. Cécile told me to leave, that everything was fine.”

Most witnesses who testified for the defence painted the picture of an obsessive love affair, the ultimate love/hate situation of two people who could not live with each other, but also not without. 

Cécile Brossard’s defense argued that she acted in self-defense after years of abuse – emotional and physical – at the hands of Stern. They called her murderous act a ‘Crime of Passion’, because in Switzerland, that carries a shorter prison sentence than pre-mediated murder. When asked to elaborate on the abusive behaviour, Cécile explained that Stern often promised he would married her, but never went through with it. He kept on telling her that his divorce had not been finalized, but that was not true. 

Cécile said that on the night of the incident, she acted in a fit of rage, took the firearm he kept in a bedside drawer and shot him. Her statement in court outlined Édouard’s last moments alive. She said:

“I pointed the weapon at his face and fired the first shot. The gun must have been six inches from his face. I think I hit him between the eyes. He got up, turned hallway round and fell. I fired another round at his head.”

She broke down in tears and said that after he called her a whore, she snapped:

"When I heard that I understood I would never be his wife," she told the court. "I wanted to carry his name; it was a little girl's dream. My head, my heart imploded." Brossard, who broke down in tears and begged forgiveness on the first day of the trial, reiterated her apology to the dead man's family. "I am a woman still madly in love,"

Édouard’s family, including his ex-wife Beatrice travelled from her home in New York to attend the hearing. Beatrice made a brave victim impact statement, saying that Édouard was his children’s hero and that prior to his death, despite the geographical distance between them, they were in daily contact. His children spoke of him and missed him every day – they would never have the pleasure of seeing him again.

The prosecution used the fact that Cécile asked her victim’s family for the money to portray her true character. They called it ‘an act of incredible duplicity’.

The jury did not have much sympathy for the apparently remorseful Cécile. They found her guilty of pre-meditated murder and stated that her actions in the days after the murder were:

"…thought-out, cynical and manipulative, hardly compatible with that of a reasonable woman in the grip of violent emotion". 

In June 2010 Cécile Brossard was found guilty of murder and sentenced to eight years and six months in prison. The time she spent in prison awaiting trial was taken into account. In addition, the Swiss court ordered her to pay Stern's children for "moral damage". She was released in November 2010, after serving only five years of her sentence. 

In 2013, Cécile Brossard opened up about her heinous crime and admitted that she "eternally regrets" her actions and she misses her lover, who had "a lovely and luminous personality". A prison psychiatrist noted that she once said that Édouard’s ‘death has fused them together’. And that – in Cécile’s eyes – is perhaps the ultimate prize. He would not commit to her in life, so she forced him to be bound to her for eternity. Their names will forever be connected, even if he is the victim and she is his killer… 

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