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Why Germany's controversial former spy chief Maaßen is finally being pushed out

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Why Germany's controversial former spy chief Maaßen is finally being pushed out
File photo of Hans Georg-Maaßen. Photo: DPA
16:20 CET+01:00
It’s not every day a civil servant sparks a political crisis that threatens to bring down the government. But that’s what happened in Germany during the saga of the country’s former domestic intelligence boss Hans-Georg Maaßen. But it looks like his mouth has finally cost him his job. Here’s the lowdown.

You couldn't make it up: Hans-Georg Maaßen, who headed up the Office for Constitutional Protection (BfV) for six years is no stranger to controversy, from contradicting Angela Merkel to being accused of having questionable links to the far-right.

But, after an uproar that almost broke the ruling grand coalition in Berlin, it looked like Maaßen was to walk into a job as a so-called special adviser in the Interior Ministry relatively unscathed.

That was the case until his extraordinary farewell speech to European security chiefs surfaced on Sunday, in which he defended his claims that footage from Chemnitz which appeared to show the 'hunting down of foreigners' may have been made up.

Maaßen heavily criticized the government and the media during his talk to European security officials on October 18th in Warsaw - and faced being kicked out.

On Monday Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) said in a press conference that Maaßen's speech was "unacceptable". He added that he was "disappointed" and was sending Maaßen into early retirement, rather into another governmental post as planned.

Seehofer said that he would be relieved of all duties immediately. 

Domestic intelligence agency deputy Thomas Haldenwang will temporarily take over the duties as president of the BfV until a successor is found in due course, the ministry said.

'Left-wing forces'

According to the manuscript of Maaßen’s speech, which was given to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, and other  media outlets on Monday, the 55-year-old had spoken of “left-wing radical forces” in the SPD that had wanted to push him out of his position, and in the process bring down the grand coalition. 

The controversy came about after a 35-year-old German man was allegedly stabbed to death by asylum seekers in Chemnitz, eastern Germany, on August 26th, prompting  protests and right-wing extremist attacks.

In September Maaßen had given an interview to the newspaper Bild in which he questioned if there had been ‘Hetzjagd’ - the hunting down of foreigners, which Merkel had already condemned. Critics accused the spy boss of fuelling conspiracy theories. 

SEE ALSO: The curious case of the spy who gave too much away

In  his speech, Maaßen said he had made it clear that, according to the findings of the security authorities, there had been no such right-wing extremist hunts.

He said: “I’ve experienced a lot of German media manipulation and Russian disinformation. But that politicians and media freely invent, or at least spread this false information without checking it, was for me a new quality of false reporting in Germany.”

He went on to say that he was being pushed out, and it was being used to some politicians' advantage.

“Since I am known in Germany as a critic of an idealistic, naive and left-wing foreigner and security policy, this was also an occasion for my political opponents, and for some media, to force me out of my office," he said.

“From my point of view, this was a welcome occasion for radical left-wing forces in the SPD, who were opposed from the outset to forming a coalition with the CDU/CSU, to provoke a break in this governing coalition."

In the speech Maaßen also said he could imagine a life outside the civil service and perhaps a future in politics. Not only in the private sector, he said, but also "for example in politics".

Horst Seehofer on Monday. Photo: DPA

Pressure on Seehofer to act

It’s come after a series of events that have resulted in clashes in Germany's ruling grand coalition, and caused headaches for coalition leaders Merkel (CDU), Seehofer (CSU) and Andrea Nahles (SPD)

SEE ALSO: 'We were wrong about Germany spy chief's promotion'

Perceived to be speaking out of turn and without solid evidence, Maaßen faced being sacked over his comments, although Seehofer stood by him. Maaßen was also accused of having questionable links to the far-right.

It was decided by the coalition leaders in September, after he had spoken out about the Chemnitz riots, that Maaßen would be moved on from his job heading up the domestic security forces.

But in a strange move, he was effectively promoted to the position as a secretary of state in the Interior Ministry.

There was a huge resistance to the deal within the Social Democrats, with former party leader Sigmar Gabriel calling the move to transfer Maaßen as "crazy".

It prompted coalition leaders to meet again and they decided not to promote Maaßen. He was then promised the position as special adviser, reporting directly to Seehofer.

The Interior Ministry was then forced to consider how to react to Maaßen's surprise speech on Sunday when it came to light.

It came as pressure continued to mount on Seehofer to step down himself. Critics of the CSU boss believe he should step aside after the Christian Socialists' dismal results in Bavaria during recent state elections. 

It remains to be seen how this latest controversy concerning Maaßen will affect him.

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