Friday, January 19, 2007

RAF Terrorists Bid for Freedom as Sentences Near Completion

Germany is considering the release of two of the principal leftist terrorists who mounted a campaign of kidnapping and assassination 30 years ago and created one of Germany's worst political crises of the 1970s.

Brigitte Mohnhaupt and Christian Klar are both serving life terms but qualify this year to apply for parole for good behavior.

Neither has explicitly renounced a belief in violent revolution, but supporters say the 57-year-old woman and 54-year-old man will not go back underground to fight the state, but instead seek personal fulfillment after spending half their lives in custody.

Death has already claimed the founders of the Red Army Faction (RAF), a group of students and intellectuals who planned to engineer a communist uprising by the West German working class.

The bizarre theory was that by assassinating senior business and justice officials, they could provoke the government into establishing a police state, which would make communism seem a desirable alternative to the masses. But they had no popular support.

West Germany preserved democracy and gradually caught most of the middle-class terrorists. Leaders Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin committed suicide in jail in 1976 and 1977.

Longest interred RAF members seek freedom

Mohnhaupt and Klar have served longer terms in custody than any other former RAF terrorists and are among only four still serving out jail terms. The rest have been gradually paroled and are living out unremarkable lives in German cities.

A panel of state superior court judges is set to give Mohnhaupt a hearing on Jan. 22 to consider if she should be granted parole from her five life terms and 15-year term, all concurrent, when she reaches the point on March 26 of having served 24 years.

She has already made nine excursions from prison, with armed police watching her, to prepare her for a changed world that is connected by the Internet and only dimly remembers communism.

As part of the RAF "second generation" after the founders' suicides, she led a particularly nasty 1977 Red Army Faction kidnap in which Hanns Martin Schleyer, head of the West German employers' federation, was seized from his car, and found dead 44 days later.

Schleyer's widow, Waltrude, called this week for the terrorists to be kept in jail, pointing out they had never shown contrition. In 1993, Mohnhaupt sent a statement from jail opposing an RAF surrender.

Prison officials say Mohnhaupt has been well-behaved in the prison in Bavaria where she is serving time, with no sign of any new plots.

Klar's plea likely to go unheard

According to the newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung this week, Klar has applied to German President Horst Köhler for clemency, as he would not qualify for another two years to apply for parole. He must serve a minimum 26 years. The paper said there were signs were that clemency might be granted.

Klar, who like Mohnhaupt came from a well-off family and went to university to study philosophy before diverting into terrorism, is reported to have been well behaved in jail. A Berlin theater has promised him a two-year staff internship if he is released.

He has also never renounced his ideas, telling an interviewer in 2001 he still wanted Germany to make a "fresh start" and would never abjure what the RAF had done, "though I do not contemplate reviving the armed struggle."

DW staff /dpa (nda)

Deutsche Welle 01/2007

Former VW Executive Confesses in Corruption Trial

Peter Hartz, whose name is also connected with Germany's welfare reform, admitted breach of trust as his trial opened on Wednesday. He could now get off with a fine and a suspended sentence.

Once one of the country's most respected managers, Hartz, 65, was accused of sanctioning illegal bonuses while director of Volkswagen's human resources department. The payments were allegedly used to finance lavish foreign trips, mainly by the head of the company's works council, Klaus Volkert, and his South American mistress. Other charges relate to visits to brothels and sex parties financed with company funds.

Hartz, who played a key role in drafting Germany's labor and social welfare reforms under
former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, left the company in July 2005. He admitted in October to "a criminal responsibility for giving preferential treatment to the former works council head."

Sources close to the case said that no witnesses were expected to be called during the two-day trial in Braunschweig, close to the town of Wolfsburg, where Volkswagen has its headquarters.

Hartz is said to have cooperated extensively with prosecutors.

Paid pleasure trips

The VW scandal, which surfaced in June 2005, originally centered on allegations of bribes from potential suppliers and the creation of dummy companies which were used to secure lucrative contracts abroad. But it quickly widened to include claims that VW paid for so-called pleasure trips for work council members to win their allegiance. This included allegations about flying around high-class prostitutes.

The charges against Hartz came after an 18-month investigation, which has also seen the indictment of Hans-Juergen Uhl, a former member of the works council, who is also a member of parliament in Berlin.

Uhl, who represents the co-governing Social Democratic Party (SPD), has been indicted on two counts of being an accessory to fraud and five counts of making false statements under oath.

Volkert was arrested last year because of concerns about the suppression of evidence, but released after two months.

The former works council chief is alleged to have been paid illegal bonuses worth 1.9 million euros ($2.5 million) by Hartz between 1994 and 2005. His mistress is alleged to have received payments totalling 400,000 euros.

DW staff / DPA (win)

Deutsche Welle 01/2007