Germany opens fresh probe against police over neo-Nazi chats

German prosecutors said Wednesday they had opened a probe against 20 police officers, including elite commandos, accused of taking part in far-right online chats and swapping Nazi symbols.

Germany opens fresh probe against police over neo-Nazi chats
Archive photo of a police officer in Kassel, Hesse. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Swen Pförtner

In the latest political scandal to rock Germany’s security services, the Hesse state crime office and the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office said they had
carried out dawn raids at the homes and workplaces of six of the suspects.

“Seventeen of the accused are believed to have distributed content constituting incitement of racial hatred or images linked to a former National
Socialist organisation,” the authorities said in a statement on the investigation, which was launched in April.

Three officers stand accused of obstruction of justice “because they were participants of the relevant chat groups and as superiors failed to stop or sanction the communication”.

Most of the offending content was exchanged in 2016-17, with the most recent from 2019.

READ ALSO: Hesse police face claims of links with far-right scene

The accused are all male and range in age from 29 to 54. Nineteen are active police officers and one retired. Prosecutors said all had been
temporarily relieved of their duties, with one suspect formally suspended. 

The probe began with allegations against a 38-year-old officer with the SEK special deployment commando in Frankfurt who was accused of sharing illicit content including child pornography.

A search of his mobile phone uncovered some of the racist chats in question.

The case is only the latest example of alleged extremism in the ranks of the German police.

Last September, officers in the most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia swooped on colleagues accused of spreading what prosecutors
called “repulsive” far-right propaganda in online chatrooms.

And in July, prosecutors announced the arrest of a former police officer and his wife suspected of having sent threatening emails to politicians and other public figures across Germany.

READ ALSO: Ex-police officer and wife arrested over far-right letters in Germany

The previous month the defence minister ordered the partial dissolution of the elite KSK commando force over right-wing extremism.

READ ALSO: What is Germany doing to combat the far-right after Hanau attacks?

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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.