Berlin police confiscate 77 properties connected to crime family

Berlin police have seized properties belonging to an organized crime clan who are notoriously difficult to track down, the public prosecutor's office announced on Thursday.

Berlin police confiscate 77 properties connected to crime family
Berlin police confiscated 77 properties. Photo: DPA

The apartments, houses and businesses, worth a total of ten million euros, are thought to belong to an extended Arabic family, who purchased them with money from criminal offences.

Last Friday, financial investigators of the State Criminal Police Office had already searched the premises of twelve apartments and businesses thought to be in the hands of the family.

It is also thought that the family, of whom police did not detail their exact nationality, is connected to the robbery of a gold coin weighing 100 kilograms, said police.

The coin, which had a pure gold value of 3.7 million euros, was stolen from the Bode Museum at the end of March 2017 but has yet to turn up. Arrest warrants were issued against four suspects in June 2017, and two men have since been released.

Part of a larger trend

Last year, Germany passed a law that criminal profits can be legally seized. It allows for the temporary confiscation of assets which police deem to be of unclear origin, before courts decide whether to order a permanent seizure.

Police union head Norbert Ciorma said that it would now become clear whether the new law meant it was appropriate “to finally take effective action against the criminal machinations of these clans and to hit them where it really hurts them, in terms of money,” he said.

In certain districts of Berlin, gangs have divided streets among themselves. Between 12 and 20 large criminal families are said to live in Berlin, often in the neighbourhood of Neukölln.

But the problem is not limited to Berlin: federal police say that such clans, often of Arab origin, are also found in the Ruhr area, Lower Saxony and Bremen.

Closed structures of clans

According to the Berlin police, 14 of the 68 major investigations into organized crime last year were directed against gangs with members of Arab-Lebanese origin. More than half of the suspects from these clans now have a German passport, said Dirk Jacob, responsible for organized gang crime at the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation.

Many members of these extended families – including those of Palestinian or Lebanese origin – were not allowed to work in Germany because they were officially stateless and their residence status was unclear. Crime then became their prime source of income.

In a December 2017 discussion with DPA, Senator of the Interior Andreas Geisel (SPD) emphasized how difficult it can be to penetrate the closed structures of the clans.

Incidents of brutality and violence are decreasing in the German capital, according to the senator, yet attempts are increasingly being made to convert criminal businesses into official ones.

According to police and judicial definitions, organized crime includes money laundering, human trafficking and corruption, with many members of crime clans motivated by a quest for power and profit, according to Geisel.

With many members, they can easily divide their workload, including politics, administration, justice and business in the process.

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German police under fire for using tracing app to find witnesses

German police drew criticism Tuesday for using an app to trace contacts from bars and restaurants in the fight against the pandemic as part of an investigation.

A barcode used for the Luca check-in app to trace possible Covid contacts at a Stuttgart restaurant.
A barcode used for the Luca check-in app to trace possible Covid contacts at a Stuttgart restaurant. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

The case stemming from November last year began after the fatal fall of a man while leaving a restaurant in the western city of Mainz.

Police seeking possible witnesses made use of data from an app known as Luca, which was designed for patrons to register time spent in restaurants and taverns to track the possible spread of coronavirus.

Luca records the length of time spent at an establishment along with the patron’s full name, address and telephone number – all subject to Germany’s strict data protection laws.

However the police and local prosecutors in the case in Mainz successfully appealed to the municipal health authorities to gain access to information about 21 people who visited the restaurant at the same time as the man who died.

After an outcry, prosecutors apologised to the people involved and the local data protection authority has opened an inquiry into the affair.

“We condemn the abuse of Luca data collected to protect against infections,” said the company that developed the Luca app, culture4life, in a statement.

It added that it had received frequent requests for its data from the authorities which it routinely rejected.

Konstantin von Notz, a senior politician from the Greens, junior partners in the federal coalition, warned that abuse of the app could undermine public trust.

“We must not allow faith in digital apps, which are an important tool in the fight against Covid-19, to disappear,” he told Tuesday’s edition of Handelsblatt business daily.