BERLIN – German billionaire Adolf Merckle has committed suicide after his business empire, which included interests ranging from pharmaceuticals to cement, ran into trouble in the global financial crisis, his family said Tuesday.
The 74-year-old's body was found Monday night near railway tracks at Blaubeuren in southwestern Germany, prosecutors in nearby Ulm said in a statement. They described the death as a "railway accident" and said there was no evidence that anyone else was to blame.
His family, which had reported Merckle missing after he failed to return home Monday, issued a brief statement saying he took his own life.
"Adolf Merckle lived and worked for his family and his firms," it said.
"The distress to his firms caused by the financial crisis and the related uncertainties of recent weeks, along with the helplessness of no longer being able to act, broke the passionate family businessman, and he ended his life," it said.
Merckle's business interests included generic drug maker Ratiopharm International GmbH and cement maker HeidelbergCement AG.
His holding company, VEM Vermoegensverwaltung, recently had been in talks with banks to secure credit after its business interests ran up high levels of debt, and also lost value amid the global financial crisis.
In addition, the holding company recently said it had suffered heavy losses on shares of automaker Volkswagen AG, which fluctuated wildly last fall as fellow car maker Porsche SE moved to increase its stake in the company.
Merckle helped turn his grandfather's chemical wholesale company into one of Germany's biggest pharmaceutical wholesalers, Phoenix Pharmahandel, in which he held a 57 percent stake.
He used his wealth, estimated by Forbes last year to be $9.2 billion, to take stakes in HeidelbergCement and Ratiopharm.
Merckle also owned stakes in companies that made a wide array of goods from all-terrain vehicles, software to textiles.
Despite his wealth and prominence in corporate Germany, Merckle mostly avoided publicity.
He is survived by his four children.