Netflix’s latest true crime docuseries, Gunther’s Millions, introduces a novel kind of scammer: the canine con artist. It follows the story of Gunther, a German shepherd who lives a life of luxury as “the richest dog in the world” — but as as the series reveals, there’s more to Gunther’s story than meets the eye. Over the course of four episodes, the series unravels the truth behind Gunther’s fortune, which involves a convoluted tax scheme, pharmaceutical companies, and a fake German countess.
Gunther’s Millions explains that the dog at the center of the tale is owned by Maurizio Mian, the scion of a wealthy Italian family. For years, Mian claimed that Gunther was once the pet of a German countess named Carlotta Liebenstein, who was a close family friend of his mother, Gabriella Gentili. When Liebenstein died in 1992, the story goes, she named the dog as the sole beneficiary of her trust, and asked Gentili to oversee the dog’s care; eventually, Mian took over as Gunther’s caretaker.
Per Italian journalist Massimo Marini, Liebenstein left Gunther with 138 billion Italian lira, now worth about $77.5 million. But Gunther’s net worth quickly grew to over €400 million (about $434 million) — and possibly even more.
It’s hard to tell if that number is actually higher, as Mian himself has admitted that he made up the story of the countess. In the second half of the limited series, Mian explains that Carlotta Liebenstein was just “an avatar” — a person very loosely inspired by a German woman who was friends with his mother.
The countess was invented as a part of a tax evasion scheme. As Mian explains, all of the money in Gunther’s trust is actually his family’s, not the countess’. His family’s pharmaceutical company, Instituto Gentili, created a drug treatment for osteoporosis which was sold to Merk & Co., earning the family a fortune. But Gentili didn’t want to pay the high Italian taxes on her wealth, so she put their money into the LGT Bank in Liechtenstein, which is known as “one of the most secretive places in the world,” per ABC News.
Evading taxes in such a way is illegal, so Gentili covered her tracks by putting the account under the name Carlotta Liebenstein. The idea to use the dog to then route the money back to the family came about after they learned that dogs can be named as beneficiaries of trusts. They found an attorney in the Bahamas who was willing to arrange this — without asking too many questions — and thus the scheme was born. The money flowed from Gentili, to the Liechtenstein bank, to “the countess,” to Gunther, and back to Mian’s family.
Gentili died in 2011, and much of the series explores how Mian coped with her death and his own bouts of depression. Today, the trust benefits the sixth “Gunther” — all of the Gunthers have been descendants of the original dog — and Mian is still in charge of allocating the German shepherd’s wealth.
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