Murder charge upgraded in expat socialite case

In a case that has fascinated Washington DC for several months, the charge against Albrecht Muth for the killing of his wife Viola Drath, 91-year-old German expat socialite, intellectual and journalist, has been raised to first degree murder.

Murder charge upgraded in expat socialite case
Photo: screenshot of ABC news,

Muth, 44 years younger than Drath and the sole suspect, had initially been charged with second degree murder in August 2011, when Drath was found dead in her home. A coroner said she had been killed by strangulation and blunt force trauma.

But according to a report in the Washington Post, the charge was elevated Tuesday based on evidence presented to a DC Superior Court grand jury. The jury described the killing as “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel” and that Drath “was especially vulnerable due to age.”

Muth, who was recently taken to a psychiatric hospital to determine whether he is fit to stand trial, pleaded not guilty to the original charge and has displayed increasingly erratic behaviour in court.

According to ABC news, he fired his lawyers, claimed that the murder was a “hit” by Iranian agents, and asked to appear in his military uniform, which prosecution lawyers said had been tailored for him in South Carolina.

US media reports suggest the marriage had long raised eyebrows in political and social circles in Washington. Friends speculate that Drath, a respected, stately figure, had been drawn to Muth by loneliness after the death of her first husband in the 1980s.

Muth himself described the 20-year relationship as “a marriage of convenience,” and court records showed that the marriage had occasionally been violent.

Drath was born in Düsseldorf, western Germany, and moved to the US after World War II. She wrote several plays and books, promoted German-US relations, and penned columns for both The Washington Times and German financial daily Handelsblatt.

The Handelsblatt wrote in an obituary last August that Drath had reported for the newspaper for 27 years, initially about the US art market, and then on foreign and security affairs.

Muth’s origins are less clear. ABC said the German native was described as a “prelaw honour student” and “godson of an East German politician” in the couple’s wedding announcement in 1990.

He was also considered very fluent in international affairs and would often name-drop prominent politicians. Over the years, Muth has described himself as an East German spy, a CIA operative, “Sheik Ali Al-Muthaba,” the name he goes by on his website, and a brigadier general in the Iraqi army.

The Local/bk

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Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.