Software pirate's 'checkmate' is a 5.5-year sentence

Apparently Ralph Blasek didn't do a good job at plotting his next few moves. The professional chess player, and presumed leader of Europe's largest known software counterfeiting network, was sentenced last week by a German judge to five-and-a-half years in prison without probation.

"This is checkmate to you Blasek. The court wants to see your king fall," the judge said, according to sources close to the case who were in the courtroom during sentencing.

The defendant was convicted of fraud for selling illegal software to customers but the case centered on the tampering of Microsoft's education software.

According to Microsoft, Blasek obtained legitimate Microsoft software sold to schools and educational facilities at a discounted rate and then resold it as full versions to non-educational customers for well over the discounted price.

He manipulated the software and its packaging to create counterfeit versions and sell the licenses, a Microsoft representative said. Microsoft suffered US$5.5 million in damages due to Blasek's activities, the court spokesperson said.

Blasek is also alleged to run a sophisticated international software counterfeiting ring involving hundreds of front companies with bank accounts established around the world. The organisation was supposedly set up in the early 1990s, and generated more than $US100 million worth of counterfeit software in just the last few years of operation, according to sources close to the case.

The organisation is even thought to have manufactured counterfeit software using a German-based CD manufacturing plant that normally produces music CDs for independent artists.

His sentencing followed an investigation by Germany's Bundeskriminalamt, the equivalent of the US' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and local police and a 10-week trial in the criminal court of Bochum in Northrhine-Westfalia.

Blasek's five-and-a-half-year sentence came without probation or the possibility of appeal, and was on top of the eight months he had already spent in jail since his arrest last November, courtroom sources said.

The court spokesperson confirmed the five-and-a-half year sentence but did not confirm whether Blasek was being denied an appeal or whether he was unable to subtract the eight months he has already served.

Sources in the courtroom said the judge issued the tough sentence in part because the defendant was undercutting legitimate Microsoft channel resellers.

(John Blau in Düsseldorf contributed to this report.)

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