For 27 years, the German police have been using dubious means to arrest three people from the left-wing spectrum in the case of the so-called K.O.M.I.T.E.E. But the crimes they are accused of have long since become time-barred. However, the police is still pursuing the idea.
The Commission for the Control of Data held by Interpol (CCF) has lifted a “Red Notice” against German national Thomas Walter because he is in asylum proceedings in Venezuela. This is reported by the support website of the three persons wanted in the so-called K.O.M.I.T.E.E. case. The manhunt for the arrest was initiated by the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) after the Federal Supreme Court (BGH) issued arrest warrants for Walter, Bernhard Heidbreder and Peter Krauth, also from Germany, as members of a “terrorist organisation”.
The K.O.M.I.T.E.E. is suspected of having carried out an arson attack on a Bundeswehr building in Bad Freienwalde 27 years ago, in which no one was injured. A year later, the group allegedly tried to blow up a deportation prison under construction in Berlin-Grünau. A police patrol was alerted to the fact that the construction site had been cordoned off for this purpose. The perpetrators fled, the building remained unharmed. According to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), evidence was found in a vehicle left behind at the scene of the crime, which was attributed to the three wanted men.
Search with honeypot
As part of the investigation, the BKA searched the editorial office of the daily newspaper taz and the private rooms of a journalist in order to find the original of a letter of a letter claiming responsibility written by the group. In 2005, investigators called the wife of one of Heidbreder’s business partners under false pretences and travelled after the man to Egypt, where they secretly searched his hotel room. The dubious police measures also included video surveillance at the German Historical Museum in Berlin, because a publicly accessible computer there allegedly called up the BKA website with information on the K.O.M.I.T.E.E..
In 2014, German investigators finally discovered Heidbreder in Venezuela and had him arrested with the help of the police there. The Supreme Court in Caracas rejected an extradition request because the alleged offences were time-barred under Venezuelan law. However, his release after a year in prison was delayed for another nine months. Subsequently, Krauth was also imprisoned on the basis of his Interpol warrant and released after four months on the same grounds. All three are now living in Mérida in western Venezuela, where they have applied for recognition as political refugees. This is known to the BKA.
“Bite reflex of German law enforcement agencies”
The CCF is supposed to control the processing of personal data as an independent, impartial body. According to Article 3 of its statutes, Interpol is prohibited from supporting any political persecution. For this reason, the police organisation repeatedly withdraws alerts for wanted persons, many of them from states such as Turkey. In 2018, Interpol established a Notices and Diffusion Task Force (NDTF) to review all existing “Red Notices” for an Article 3 violation. In well over 100 cases, member states were subsequently requested to remove it.
It is not only asylum seekers who should be protected from international prosecution by Interpol. A warrant distributed by Interpol is also obsolete if it does not lead to success within a reasonable time. After 27 years, as in the case of the three Germans, the alert would have to be deleted for this reason alone.
In Germany, too, the preparation of blowing up the deportation prison is actually time-barred after 20 years. However, the arrest warrants are upheld because the conspiracy to commit the same crime only becomes time-barred after 40 years. A complaint against the idea being prosecuted longer and punished more severely than its preparation or execution was rejected by the German Federal Supreme Court. Walter’s lawyer Benjamin Derin, who had applied for the now successful Interpol decision, therefore speaks of a “biting reflex of the German law enforcement authorities”.
No obligation to delete an alert
Heidbreder has also filed an appeal against the “Red Notice”, the presumably identical decision is still pending.
After the withdrawal of an alert by Interpol, its 194 members are encouraged to delete it from their databases. However, an obligation does not result from the request. By 2018, for example, the German Federal Office of Justice and the German Foreign Office had decided to continue to maintain at least five “Red Notices” cancelled by Interpol as national warrants for arrest.
In the case of the three wanted in the K.O.M.I.T.E.E. case, individual Interpol members could thus continue to pursue BKA requests for Walter, Heidbreder and Krauth. At least in Venezuela, however, the alert should be deleted. This might not please Jürgen Stock, Interpol’s Secretary General, who was recently re-elected for a second term. Before taking office in 2014, he was vice-president of the BKA for ten years.
Image: Still from the trailer of the film „Gegen den Strom – abgetaucht in Venezuela“ by Sobo Swobodnik.