Germany Investigates Three Over ‘Spying For China’

 

German prosecutors on Wednesday said they were investigating three people who allegedly spied for China, with media reporting that a German former EU diplomat was among the suspects.

“We can confirm an investigation into suspected espionage” for Chinese state security bodies, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office told AFP.

Der Spiegel weekly said one of the suspects was a German diplomat who worked at the European Commission in Brussels before serving several stints as ambassador for the European Union in foreign countries.

The other two are reportedly lobbyists employed by a “well-known Germany lobby firm”.

Prosecutors refused to provide details about the suspects and said no arrests have been made.

But they confirmed Spiegel’s information that police were on Wednesday raiding homes and offices linked to the trio in Berlin, Brussels and the German states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg.

According to Spiegel, prosecutors accuse the former diplomat and one of the lobbyists of “sharing private and commercial information with the Chinese ministry for state security”.

The third suspect apparently only indicated “a willingness to do so”.

The diplomat at the centre of the probe reportedly ended his EU career in 2017 and switched to working for a lobbying firm, where he then recruited the two other suspects.

The spying is alleged to have started that same year.

If the allegations are confirmed, it would be a rare case of Chinese espionage being uncovered.

“Although there is always much talk about large-scale Chinese spying operations in Germany and Europe, investigators are rarely successful against Beijing’s secret services,” Spiegel wrote.

 Huawei tensions 

The probe comes at a time of intense debate in Europe’s top economy about whether or not to exclude Chinese tech giant Huawei from developing Germany’s 5G mobile networks.

Critics, led by Washington, say Huawei is too close to Beijing and its equipment could be used as a tool for spying — an allegation Huawei strongly denies.

US President Donald Trump has already ordered American firms to cease doing business with market leader Huawei, and has urged allies to follow suit.

Australia and Japan have also taken steps to bar or tightly restrict the firm’s participation in their 5G networks.

Germany so far has resisted pressure to ban Huawei.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has instead said Berlin would insist on stringent security requirements without barring individual companies.

China is a crucial trading partner for Germany but concerns have mounted in recent years over a spike in Chinese investments in German firms.

The buying spree has fuelled fears of vital German knowhow and technology being sold off to Beijing, prompting the government to tighten restrictions on foreign takeovers.

AFP

Rail Modernisation: Germany To Spend 62 Billion Euros

German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer addresses the media at the signing of an agreement on railway modernisations with German railway operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) in Berlin, Germany, on January 14, 2020.
German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer addresses the media at the signing of an agreement on railway modernisations with German railway operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) in Berlin, Germany, on January 14, 2020. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

 

The German government on Tuesday agreed to pump 62 billion euros into modernising its rail network system, as part of a wider plan to incite commuters to opt for greener public transport options.

“We’ve just signed the most important programme of modernisation ever in Germany,” said Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer, adding that “this is the decade for railway”.

Besides the massive sum stumped up by the state, equivalent to $69 billion, German rail operator Deutsche Bahn will also plow an additional 24 billion euros into the renewal programme.

The investments will go towards “replacing obsolete installations”, improving access to disabled passengers as well as renovating rail bridges, said Scheuer.

Deutsche Bahn chief Richard Lutz also vowed to improve punctuality of trains — a key turn-off for commuters, even though he also called for patience in view of the disruptions that rail upgrading will undoubtedly bring.

Getting more people to switch to trains instead of the more polluting cars or planes is a central plank of a government climate package aimed at helping Germany lower its emissions by 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

As part of the package, train fares are going down while air travel prices are set to rise with higher taxes to be imposed.

 

AFP

Two US Airmen Found Dead At Germany Base

 

Two US Air Force airmen were found dead last week in Germany, the base where they were stationed said in a statement Monday, adding that an investigation into the cause is underway.

The men, both aged 20, “were found unresponsive in a dorm room” in the early evening of January 9, the 52nd Fighter Wing based at Spangdahlem airbase in western Germany said in a statement.

Efforts to revive them failed and medics pronounced them dead around 20 minutes after the bodies were discovered.

“It is always very difficult to lose valued members of our team,” 52nd Fighter Wing commander Colonel David Epperson said, offering “sincerest and heartfelt condolences” to the soldiers’ families.

The men had served in the maintenance squadron belonging to the fighter wing.

Spangdahlem air base also made headlines in October last year, when one of the unit’s F-16 fighter jets crashed in western Germany.

The pilot in that incident escaped with minor injuries.

AFP

Germany ‘Strongly Condemns’ Iran Missile Attacks

German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting on January 8, 2020, at the Chancellery in Berlin. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

 

Germany’s defence minister condemned Iranian missile attacks on Iraqi bases housing coalition military on Wednesday and called on Tehran to end a “spiral” of conflict.

“The German government strongly condemns this aggression,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told broadcaster ARD.

“It is now crucial that we do not allow this spiral to continue,” said the defence minister, adding that “it is now primarily up to the Iranians to refrain from further escalation.”

Kramp-Karrenbauer said that Germany had been in contact with the US department of defence throughout Tuesday night, and that “all channels” of communication would be opened in a bid to prevent further escalation.

She added that she would seek a meeting of the coalition’s 13 framework nations to discuss the situation in the region.

Separately, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged Iran to “refrain from all steps that could lead to further escalation”. He also called on all parties to exercise restraint.

The overnight attack on bases in Al-Asad and Arbil was the latest escalation amid growing tensions in the region since a US drone strike killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani last Friday.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is also the leader of Angela Merkel’s ruling conservative party, said the missile attacks could see further withdrawals of German troops in Iraq.

Germany temporarily withdrew 32 of its soldiers from a camp close to Baghdad on Tuesday, and the defence minister said that plans were now being drawn up for a “possible partial withdrawal” from Arbil.

Trump’s Iraq Sanctions Threat ‘Not Very Helpful’ – Germany

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel/ AFP

 

US President Donald Trump’s threat to slap sanctions on Iraq should Baghdad expel US troops based there “is not very helpful”, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Monday.

“I don’t think you can convince Iraq with threats, but with arguments,” Maas told Deutschlandfunk radio, warning that years-long efforts to rebuild Iraq “could all be lost” if the situation escalates.

Trump earlier vowed to hit Iraq with sanctions “like they’ve never seen before” if US troops are forced to leave the country.

The threat came after Iraqi lawmakers voted on Sunday to request the government end an agreement with a US-led international coalition to fight the hardline Islamist group IS in the region.

Tensions have soared following the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani by a US drone strike in Baghdad on Friday.

A furious Tehran has since announced a further step back from its commitments to the 2015 nuclear accord, leaving the future of the hard-fought pact in doubt.

European leaders have called for an urgent de-escalation of tensions, but Maas admitted that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had hoped for more full-throated backing from allies.

“Apparently he wasn’t too happy that we didn’t 100 percent support America’s actions,” Maas said after Pompeo spoke by phone with his German, French and British counterparts.

Maas said it was important that the European Union presented a united stance so it could play a meaningful role in helping to cool tempers.

“Our own security interests are massively affected by the fight in Iraq against international terrorism, against IS, so we have a responsibility here,” he said.

“I think it’s necessary that the EU foreign ministers quickly convene in Brussels to coordinate a European position.”

He also said Germany, France and Britain would decide this week how to react to Iran’s decision to forego the limit on enrichment it had pledged to honour in the nuclear agreement.

“We can’t just accept this without responding,” Maas said.

“It certainly doesn’t make things easier and it could be the first step towards the end of the deal and that would be a great loss.”

AFP

Merkel, Macron, Johnson Agree To Work Towards ‘Reducing Tensions’ In Mideast

 

The leaders of Germany, France and Britain on Sunday agreed to work towards bringing about de-escalation in the Middle East amid heightened tensions following the US drone strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, a German government spokesman said.

“The chancellor, the French president, and the British prime minister agreed to work together to reduce tensions in the region,” said the spokesman, after Germany’s Angela Merkel spoke with France’s Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Boris Johnson on the phone.

Dozens Of Monkeys Die In German Zoo New Year’s Eve Fire

A sign reading “No Entrance!” is seen at the burned-out monkey house of the zoo in Krefeld, western Germany, on January 1, 2020. Fire ripped through the monkey house at Krefeld zoo on New Year’s Eve, killing dozens of animals, including orangutans, chimpanzees and marmosets, the management said.
Christoph Reichwein / dpa / AFP

 

Flames from flying New Year’s Eve lanterns might have sparked a blaze that killed dozens of monkeys at a zoo in northwestern Germany, management and security services said Wednesday.

The blaze tore through the monkey enclosure shortly before midnight, killing at least 30 animals, including orangutans, chimpanzees, and marmosets, police said.

“Our worst fears have been realised,” Krefeld Zoo, which specialises in primates, announced on its Facebook page.

Firefighters prevented the flames from spreading to other buildings at the zoo in North Rhine-Westphalia.

READ ALSO: Syria Regime Fire Kills Eight In School Turned Shelter

Preliminary findings from an investigation suggest the fire might have been caused by flying paper lanterns, which float into the air when lit.

Three lanterns bearing hand-written New Year’s wishes were discovered in the smouldering debris.

These types of devices have been banned in the region since 2009.

Police launched an investigation for “negligently criminal fire” and hope to establish the path of the lanterns by analysing atmospheric conditions and wind direction.

The German animal protection association quickly called for all kinds of fireworks to be banned near zoos, farms, and kennels.

The deadly blaze was “terrible proof of the dramatic consequences for animals” from “uncontrolled” celebrations, the group said.

Germans often use powerful fireworks to celebrate the New Year, and in Berlin, rescue services on Wednesday had recorded 22 injuries, some of which required amputations, from the holiday.

That was roughly comparable to levels seen in previous years.

The atmospheric effect of fireworks has also begun to spark debate, and the federal environment agency UBA estimated that the number of fine particles released in one night was comparable to the amount caused by two months of highway traffic.

Several major German supermarkets and hardware chains have decided to stop selling them, moreover.

Demand remains strong for now however, with the population spending around 113 million euros ($127 million) this year for New Year’s fireworks, the same amount as last year, according to sector federation VPI.

Around 57 percent of the county’s inhabitants would support a ban on firework sales, but 84 percent of those questioned also said they looked forward to displays next year.

Meanwhile, the Krefeld zoo planned to remain closed Wednesday with employees “in shock” owing to the “terrible tragedy”, the management said.

AFP

Legendary German Tenor Peter Schreier Dies Aged 84

In this picture from September 24, 2011, German singer and conductor Peter Schreier speaks after he was awarded the Mendelssohn prize in Leipzig, eastern Germany. PETER ENDIG / DPA / AFP

 

 

German singer and conductor Peter Schreier, widely regarded as one of the leading lyric tenors of the 20th century, died on Thursday at the age of 84 after a long illness, his secretary said.

Schreier, one of the few international stars to emerge from former communist East Germany, passed away in his beloved home city of Dresden.

Although Schreier retired from opera at the age of 65 in 2000 because he felt too old to be playing young lovers on stage, he continued to give “Lieder” or song recitals for a few more years and then focussed on teaching and conducting until his health problems became too severe.

Schreier suffered from back and hip problems and had diabetes, according to German media.

In a career that spanned decades and encompassed more than 60 different roles, Schreier performed regularly in some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses and festivals, from Berlin, Vienna and Salzburg to New York and Milan.

He was perhaps most famous for his interpretations of Bach and Mozart, but his repertoire also included Wagner and he even sang at the legendary Bayreuth Festival in 1966.

“A day without music is a wasted day,” DPA news agency quoted him as saying.

Born on July 29, 1935 in the small town of Gauernitz near Dresden in Saxony state, Schreier’s singing talent soon became apparent to his father, a church cantor.

At the age of eight, Schreier joined Dresden’s famous Kreuzchor boys’ choir and went on to study singing and conducting in the city which was heavily destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II.

Mozart breakthrough

Schreier made his operatic debut in the role of First Prisoner in Beethoven’s “Fidelio” at the Dresden State Opera.

But his breakthrough came a little later in two key Mozart roles — Belmonte in “The Abduction from the Seraglio” and Tamino in “The Magic Flute”.

While critics did not always describe his voice as beautiful, they praised the intensity and intelligence of his performances.

A pivotal member of the Berlin State Opera at Unter den Linden in then East Berlin, Schreier enjoyed rare privileges in the tightly-controlled GDR — without being a member of the ruling SED communist party.

In 1972, he took up the baton and went on to conduct some of the world’s leading orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic.

But Schreier always insisted his heart belonged to Dresden.

“I would be missing something if I couldn’t live in Dresden,” he used to say.

He finally took his leave from the concert stage in 2005 at a performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in Prague, when he both conducted and also sang the role of the Evangelist.

That same year, he told German media he was looking forward to relaxing at his countryside villa on the outskirts of Dresden and cooking for his wife Renate.

“I’ve really sung enough and would just like to enjoy a few more peaceful years now,” he said.

German Boy Missing For Over Two Years Found In Pedophile’s Closet

Germany Map

 

The case of a missing 15-year-old boy found in a closet at the flat of a suspected paedophile has gripped Germany, but his mother says she just wants to celebrate Christmas with her son.

Marvin had been missing for over two years when he was found hiding in a cupboard last Friday as police searched the home of a 44-year-old man suspected of distributing child pornography.

The stunning discovery in the western town of Recklinghausen has drawn comparisons to two shocking cases in Austria — of Natascha Kampusch, who was held by her kidnapper for eight years before she managed to escape in 2006; and of Elisabeth Fritzl, who was kept in a cellar and repeatedly raped by her father Josef in an ordeal that lasted 24 years.

Marvin, who disappeared after saying goodbye to his carers at a youth shelter early on June 11, 2017, is currently in psychiatric care.

“I want to visit him for Christmas, to celebrate a little with him,” his mother Manuela B., 53, told Germany’s best-selling tabloid Bild.

A police spokesman on Monday said the decision on when Marvin can go home “is up to the doctors, not the police”.

Many questions remain answered in the case that German media have dubbed an “Advent miracle” — including how the boy ended up at the flat and if he could have left at any time.

– TV appeal –

Police said in a statement that the officers who discovered him “did not see any indications at that point that he was being held against his will”.

But Marvin’s mother, who was briefly reunited with her son on Friday, doubted he was there entirely out of free will.

“The man whose place they found him at must have manipulated him,” she told Bild.

“I could go crazy thinking about what’s been done to him.”

She said Marvin was found wearing the same clothes as on the day he vanished, and said he looked like “a broken old man”.

“He now needs to process what’s happened over the past two and a half years. This is all so painful.”

His stepfather Michael B. told the RTL broadcaster he believed the boy hadn’t stayed at the flat voluntarily, adding that Marvin “didn’t talk much” when he saw his mother.

Marvin was 13 when he was living in a care home for young people, reportedly after he had trouble processing the death of his father.

After the investigation into his disappearance had gone cold, Marvin’s mother and sister made a fresh appeal for information in the TV show “Aktenzeichen XY” in July, which tries to solve missing cases.

But in the end the boy’s discovery appeared to be entirely coincidental.

Marvin’s mother told Bild she already knows what she will give her son for Christmas.

“I want to give him new clothes.”

The suspect at whose flat Marvin was found remains in custody and faces allegations of serious sexual offences.

AFP

 

Germany Expels Russian Diplomats Over Berlin Murder

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on December 3, 2019 at the Chancellery in Berlin. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on December 3, 2019 at the Chancellery in Berlin. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

 

Germany expelled two Russian diplomats on Wednesday after prosecutors said Moscow could be behind the killing of a former Chechen rebel commander in a Berlin park.

Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a 40-year-old Georgian national, was shot twice in the head at close range in Kleiner Tiergarten park on August 23, allegedly by a Russian man who was arrested shortly afterwards.

The case has been compared with the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Britain last year with a Soviet-era nerve agent, widely blamed on Russian intelligence.

The attempted murder plunged relations between Britain and Russia into a deep freeze, leading to tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions.

After Germany’s move on Wednesday, a Russian foreign ministry representative pledged “retaliatory measures”.

“A politicised approach to investigation issues is unacceptable,” said the representative, adding that Germany’s statements were “groundless and hostile”.

The suspect in the Berlin killing was said to be riding a bicycle and was seen by witnesses afterwards throwing the bike and a stone-laden bag with a gun into a river.

He has until now been named by police only as Vadim S but evidence revealed by German prosecutors on Wednesday indicated a possible fake identity.

“The foreign ministry has today declared two employees of the Russian embassy in Berlin as personae non gratae with immediate effect,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Despite repeated high-ranking and persistent demands, Russian authorities have not cooperated sufficiently in the investigation into the murder.”

Federal prosecutors in charge of intelligence cases earlier on Wednesday said they had taken over the investigation.

“There is sufficient factual evidence to suggest that the killing… was carried out either on behalf of state agencies of the Russian Federation or those of the Autonomous Chechen Republic,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

Chechnya has been led with an iron fist since 2007 by Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian ministry link

Outlining the results of their investigation so far, the statement said Vadim had travelled from Moscow to Paris on August 17 and then on to Warsaw on August 20.

He left his hotel in Warsaw on August 22 and his movements between then and the murder were unclear, it said.

Prosecutors said his visa for travelling to Europe indicated he was a civil engineer working for a company in Saint Petersburg.

But the company was not operational and a fax number for the firm was registered to another company belonging to Russia’s defence ministry.

Prosecutors said the man’s features matched those of a suspect in a 2013 murder in Moscow in which the suspect also approached the victim on a bicycle.

The investigative website Bellingcat on Tuesday said the suspect in both murders was 54-year-old Vadim Krasikov, who grew up in Kazakhstan when it was part of the Soviet Union before spending time in Siberia.

German media said the suspicion was that Russian intelligence agencies had recruited him after the 2013 killing.

Bellingcat said the victim had fought in the second Chechen war in 1999-2002, then continued supporting Chechen separatists from his native Georgia.

He also lived for a time under an assumed identity as Tornike Kavtarashvili, according to media reports.

Bellingcat said he “recruited and armed” a volunteer unit to fight Russian troops in Georgia in 2008.

After surviving two assassination attempts in Georgia, he had spent recent years in Germany and applied for asylum.

 

AFP

Euro 2020: Portugal Drawn With France, Germany

A board displays the groups and Spanish football player Iker Casillas (R) during the UEFA Euro 2020 football competition final draw in Bucharest on November 30, 2019. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

 

Reigning European champions Portugal will come up against World Cup winners France and Germany in the standout group at Euro 2020 following Saturday’s draw for the tournament in Bucharest.

Neither France nor Portugal were in Pot One for the 24-team competition being held in 12 cities across Europe, making them the teams to avoid for the top seeds.

The section, Group F, will be completed by one of the winners of the play-offs to be played next March.

See the draw for the group stage of the Euro 2020 finals, to be played from June 12-July 12, made in Bucharest on Saturday:

Group A

Turkey

Italy

Wales

Switzerland

Group B

Denmark

Finland

Belgium

Russia

Group C

Netherlands

Ukraine

Austria

Winner of play-off Path D or Romania should they qualify (home games in Bucharest)

Group D

England

Croatia

Winner of play-off Path C

Czech Republic

Group E

Spain

Sweden

Poland

Winner of play-off Path B

Group F

Winner of play-off Path A or Path D (if Romania win Path A)

Portugal

France

Germany

Note: Remaining four teams to qualify through UEFA Nations League play-offs in March

Germany’s AfD Elects New Leaders As Radicals Rise

The co-leader of the parliamentary group of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) far-right party Alexander Gauland casts his vote on the federal 2020 budget following a debate at the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, on November 29, 2019, in Berlin. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

 

 

Germany’s far-right AfD party will elect new leaders on Saturday, with its increasingly influential radical wing seeking to tighten its grip on the group after a series of electoral victories.

The anti-migrant party’s extremists have the upper hand following a series of electoral gains in eastern regions in September and October that have caused widespread domestic and international consternation.

Underlining the polarising effect the party has on Germany, up to 12,000 protesters are expected to gather outside the congress hall in the city of Braunschweig to demonstrate against what they call a racist party.

On Friday night around a thousand protesters, all dressed in black, marched through the center of the city, heeding the call of an anti-fascist group.

Volkswagen, whose name is on the hall used by the AfD, has requested for its logo to be covered up.

Within the hall, tensions are also set to run high as 78-year-old Alexander Gauland is expected to step down from his co-chairman role, while 58-year-old Joerg Meuthen is set to defend his seat against a challenge from party radicals.

Bjoern Hoecke, the leader of the radical Fluegel (“Wing”), has not directly put forward his name for Gauland’s spot.

But anyone seeking the post would have to get the backing of his faction, which is known for its criticism of Germany’s culture of remembrance.

One likely candidate who might please all sides is Tino Chrupalla, a 44-year-old MP and former house-painter from the eastern state of Saxony.

Chrupalla, who met with former Donald Trump advisor Steve Bannon in Berlin earlier this year, can count on the support of Hoecke’s Fluegel.

At the same time, Gauland has also tacitly given him his backing by pledging to stand aside if Chrupalla went for his post.

– Compromise candidate –

The AfD, which was only established six years ago, is riven with personal and ideological rivalries.

Yet Chrupalla is widely seen as the compromise candidate, palatable to the party’s moderates and radicals alike.

His main challenger will be fellow AfD MP Gottfried Curio, a fiery orator whose parliamentary speeches have made him a far-right social media star.

Chrupalla has presented himself as a more serious candidate, but he too has prompted outrage with his rhetoric.

Last month, he was booed in parliament after accusing Chancellor Angela Merkel of treating her voters as “underlings” with “micro-aggressions against everything German”.

He has also called the “Islamisation of the West” a “reality”, saying that one could qualify it as a replacement of the population.

Unlike most German MPs, Chrupalla does not hold a doctorate, and has railed against perceived intellectual snobbery in Germany’s political class.

He is also seen as a representative of the former East Germany, where the AfD took over 20 percent of the vote in three recent state elections.

Hoecke recently described Chrupalla as “one of the AfD’s great representatives in the East”.

Meanwhile one of the Fluegel’s number, 49-year-old MP Nicole Hoechst, is now also plotting to unseat co-leader Joerg Meuthen, according to reports in the Welt and Taz newspapers.

Meuthen, a university professor from western Germany, represents the more moderate wing of the party.

– Protests –

With 91 MPs, the AfD is now the third political force in the German parliament after the CDU and SPD.

But its support in opinion polls has stagnated at around 13 to 15 percent.

The AfD started out as a eurosceptic party but became increasingly anti-migrant and opposed to Merkel after the chancellor welcomed around one million asylum-seekers in 2015 and 2016.

Mainstream parties have refused to work with the AfD and therefore prevented it from holding executive power on a national or regional level.

“The Wing” in particular has drawn scrutiny as it has attacked one of the foundation stones of Germany’s post-war political culture — atonement for its Nazi past.

Hoecke notoriously described Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial as a “memorial of shame”, while his colleague Andreas Kalbitz has been accused of association with neo-Nazi organisations.

Such accusations have failed to frighten off voters, but they have drawn the attention of the secret services to the party’s activities.

AFP