By GREGORY KATZ, The Associated Press
LONDON — For more than two months, Hans Kristian Rausing went about his business while the corpse of his wife Eva decomposed in their luxury home in central London. And when friends or family asked about Eva, the billionaire's son would give vague replies, never suggesting anything was awry.
But the macabre pretense was dropped on July 9 when London police stopped Hans Kristian for driving erratically and, after finding drugs, searched his home. They found Eva's body in a fly-filled room under a pile of clothing and garbage bags that had been taped together. Her husband had used deodorizing powder to try to minimize the smell.
The bizarre case of two extremely wealthy, drug-addicted souls who had contributed millions to anti-drug charities reached its climax in court Wednesday when Hans Kristian pleaded guilty to preventing the proper burial of his wife.
He was sentenced to a 10-month suspended jail sentence that will require him to receive extensive treatment at a drug rehabilitation center, plus a two-month suspended sentence for driving under the influence of drugs.
Judge Richard McGregor-Johnson said Wednesday that Hans Kristian, 49, did not do anything to contribute to his wife's death, which the judge said was probably caused by heart failure coupled with drug abuse.
In a statement read in court, Hans Kristian said he believes he suffered a breakdown after Eva died because he could not face losing her.
"I did not feel able to confront the reality of her death," Hans Kristian said in the statement, adding that he "batted away" any inquiries about his wife.
"I do not feel, with the benefit of hindsight, that following her death I acted rationally," he said, adding that he had been "very traumatized" by the situation. He sat silently in court during the proceeding, wearing a blue suit and red tie.
The details revealed Wednesday established that investigators believe Eva died on May 7, with drugs including cocaine in her system, and that her husband admitted that he kept her in their home rather than report her death to authorities.
But Hans Kristian, whose father made billions selling his stake in the Tetra Pak drinks-carton empire, denied any role in her demise and said he did not provide her with drugs.
"I do not have a very coherent recollection of the events leading up to and since Eva's death," his statement read. "Safe to assure you that I have never wished her or done her any harm."
The judge said the Rausings' case illustrates how drug abuse could destroy even a wealthy family that had "every material advantage imaginable." He said the couple lived in "utter squalor" despite their riches.
McGregor-Johnson said he accepted that Hans Kristian had suffered a type of mental breakdown but that that did not completely absolve him from responsibility for failing to deal with his wife's death.
"You acted with deceit and deliberation, equipping yourself with items you used to try to prolong the act of concealment," the judge said, adding that this caused great pain to Eva's parents, "who were in the room when their daughter's body was discovered."
The judge said Hans Kristian must get treated for drug use as a resident of the Capio Nightingale Hospital and warned that he would be imprisoned if he commits any more drug offenses.
Eva Rausing came from an affluent American family, and Hans Kristian is a scion of one of Europe's richest families – his father has a net worth estimated at 4.3 billion pounds ($6.7 billion) from the sale of his stake in the Tetra Pak milk-carton packaging company.
But their wealth was no shield from the addictive power of drugs, despite repeated attempts at rehab.
Their drug problems, long an open secret among family and friends, first came to public attention in 2008 after Eva Rausing was caught trying to bring heroin and crack cocaine into the heavily-guarded U.S. Embassy in London. A subsequent search of the couple's home turned up a large quantity of cocaine, crack cocaine and heroin.
Their four children are being raised by one of Hans Kristian's sisters.
Hans Kristian's parents, Hans and Marit Rausing, released a statement several weeks ago characterizing Eva's death and its aftermath as "a reminder of the distorted reality of drug addiction." They said they hoped their "dear son Hans" could find the strength for the "long and hard" journey of rehabilitation.
Eva's parents also released a supportive statement shortly after her death. They emphasized the positive nature of the Rausings' marriage, saying they had been a "devoted and loving" couple for 21 years.