Zhenya Vernon makes major claim for Daniele Legler’s millions after claiming they were in a sexual relationship

A claim over the multi-million dollar inheritance of a famous European actor has been filed by his Australian personal assistant, who claims their relationship turned sexual.

Daniele Legler, born in Italy and raised in Switzerland, died in April 2022 aged 72, leaving behind a ‘substantial estate’ with assets in NSW, Portugal, Liechtenstein and Malta.

Melbourne-based Zhenya Vernon first met Mr Legler – 30 years her senior – when she helped him get a visa to Australia to visit his two young children from a previous marriage.

Ms Vernon, who was born in Russia but is an Australian citizen, claimed in the NSW Supreme Court that the pair were in a de facto relationship and lived together at his beachside home in Portugal for six years before his death.

But the eldest of Legler’s five children, Nadja, 31, argued in court that Mrs Vernon was trying to take their “rightful inheritance”.

In a judgment handed down this week, Judge Pike ruled that while Ms Vernon appeared ‘motivated by self-interest and financial gain’, she also had a valid claim.

An Australian battle is being waged for the legacy of European actor Daniele Legler (photo left on the set of the German TV program Kreuzfahrt ins Glück)

Russian-born Zhenya Vernon, who moved to Australia 20 years ago, was Mr Legler's assistant but claims they were in a de facto relationship

Russian-born Zhenya Vernon, who moved to Australia 20 years ago, was Mr Legler’s assistant but claims they were in a de facto relationship

Ms Vernon markets herself as a visa consultant and court documents show emails Mr Legler sent to friends describing her as efficient and capable.

She moved to Australia in 2004 at the age of 24 with her former husband, a British citizen, and obtained a degree in 2012 to qualify her to work as a migration agent.

She has also written a fitness book titled ‘How to Love Getting the Shape You Want: Why Feeling Good and Looking Great Opens More Doors’ and has competed in bodybuilding competitions.

Mr. Legler has appeared in more than thirty films and television productions in Europe and in his later years has worked as an acting coach, traveled the world and taught workshops.

Through his acting and family wealth thanks to his father Fredy, who was president of the Legler Textile Group, known for its cotton and denim production, Mr. Legler had amassed a significant fortune.

Much of that wealth is held in real estate, along with bank and cryptocurrency accounts in Europe and Australia.

Mr Legler’s eldest daughter, Nadja, is one of three children from his first marriage, while his two youngest children from his second marriage were born during a brief period when he lived in Australia on the northern coast of NSW.

Nadja told the court she was unaware that the relationship between her father and Mrs Vernon was anything but professional.

However, after being shown emails and text messages he had sent to friends, she admitted there may have been a “sexual” aspect to it, but she still didn’t believe they were together.

“She believed that in these proceedings Zhenya was attempting to defraud her and her siblings of their rightful inheritance,” Judge Pike noted.

One of the emails Mr Legler sent to a friend, Dr Alberto Ferrari, in 2018 outlined the couple’s relationship.

‘Zhenya is great, she does almost everything… she is competent, a manager, diplomatic, arranges meetings, deals with the Russian House, the Russian government and Oz, she has contacts in both countries, and now even with the Middle East East,” Mr. Legler wrote.

‘I consider her a secret person, a friend, and lately a little more: … ah ah!! A leopard cannot change its spots…

“But I’m 68 and there’s some money, she knows.”

Mr. Legler (left) on the set of another production

A signed photo of the actor

Mr Legler had a ‘significant’ fortune thanks to family money and worked as an actor for 30 years. He recently gave master classes all over the world

Ms Vernon met Mr Legler as a visa consultant when he was planning a visit for his Australian-based children from a previous marriage

Ms Vernon met Mr Legler as a visa consultant when he was planning a visit for his Australian-based children from a previous marriage

The court also heard evidence from a friend of Ms Vernon, Yevgeniy Kushkin, who she has known since 2003 and is a business owner and former Deputy Director of International Relations at the Sverdlovsk Film Studios in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

When the couple visited Russia for Mr Legler to give an acting masterclass, he told the court he told him: ‘I love Zhenya. She is very important to me’.

“Now that I’m with Zhenya… our lives revolve around Australia… I plan to go back to Australia soon to see my twins.”

However, the court also heard that while in a relationship with Mr Legler, Ms Vernon kept in touch with an occasional boyfriend from Australia, and that she texted him after Mr Legler died to say: ‘By the way, the Swiss died this Friday’.

The court also heard she withdrew $35,000 from his Australian Westpac account the day after Mr Legler died, followed by another $22,300 days later.

Shortly after his death, she also withdrew €63,000 from a European joint account.

Judge Pike also had reservations about Ms Vernon’s creditworthiness, describing her as an ‘unsatisfactory and unreliable witness’.

“Zhenya repeatedly refused to answer the question put to her, instead giving long speeches that she thought would support her case,” he noted.

Despite his concerns, Judge Pike ruled that he was satisfied that although the couple traveled frequently, they both regarded the property in Portugal as their home base and that they were indeed living there together.

“I am satisfied that the relationship remained good on the day of the deceased’s death,” he said in his decision.

‘She was de facto his within the meaning of the relevant statutory provisions.’

Judge Pike appointed an independent person as administrator of the will.

The case will return to court in July to hear a claim for costs reimbursement.