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Court Cases

Dubious witnesses at German neo-Nazi trial

A Munich court recalls witnesses who gave implausible testimony in the neo-Nazi NSU trial and may even have helped the killers. Observers wonder why they haven't been charged.

In the past, Andreas S. worked in a shop called the "Madley." It catered to the far-right scene. Its patrons were mainly neo-Nazis and sympathisers from the area around the eastern city of Jena, with a bent for heavy combat boots and right-wing music. One day around the year 2000, Carsten S. showed up with an unusual request. He wanted to buy a gun with a silencer, supposedly on behalf of Ralf Wohlleben, a functionary for Germany's right-wing NPD party. He received the weapon, and passed it on to the alleged National Socialist Underground (NSU) killers Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos.

He didn't know why they wanted the Ceska pistol, Carsten S. told prosecutors at the NSU trial in Munich in June. Prosecutors believe Böhnhardt and Mundlos used the gun to kill nine of 10 victims in racially-motivated murders. Carsten S. is thus charged with being an accessory to the murders.

The question of whether Andreas S. - suspected of having sold him the weapon - guessed or even knew more than his customer, has so far not played a role in the NSU trial. On the 55th day of a trial that began in May, Andreas S. was called as a witness .The presiding judge, Manfred Götzl, instructed the witness he could invoke the right to remain silent - which he did, for fear of being charged with aiding and abetting the NSU.

Right to silence

Defendant Carsten S. 
Photo: Marc Müller/dpa

Defendant Carsten S. hides his face......

In that case, both the buyer and the seller of the alleged murder weapon would both be in the dock. Numerous observers at the trial, including lawyers for the victims' families, find it hard to comprehend why that isn't the case yet.

It is doubtful whether Andreas S. will give more information when he takes the stand again as a witness on November 20 - this time, with a lawyer of his choice so as not to "get into trouble." Andreas S. doesn't have much to fear by way of incriminatory testimony: his former business partner at the Madley testified that he never witnessed a weapons deal.

The poor hairdresser

Testimony by yet another witness has caused even more amazement.

Silvia S. sold co-defendant Holger G. her health insurance card for 300 euros ($400). Beate Zschaepe, the main defendant in the trial and alleged sole surviving member of the three-member NSU, used that card to visit the doctor. The 33-year-old claims she "never" asked who needed her card, and why. "I'm a poor hairdresser," she said, adding that at the time, she only saw the money.

Holger G. 
Photo: Peter Kneffel/dpa

...as does co-defendant Holger G.

She also says she never talked to her husband about it, although he was present for the sale. She also ignored her husband's right-wing beliefs and the "Skinhead" tattoo on his stomach: "I'm not interested in politics," Silvia S. says.

Shady agent

Observers point out a witness even less credible than Silvia S.: Andreas T., an employee of the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution, who is scheduled to take the stand again in December. The witness showed up in Kassel in July 2006, at the time of the killing of Halit Yozgat, who ran an Internet cafe in the city. The witness made contradictory remarks during the police investigation, but numerous files have been kept under wraps by order of the Hessian state Interior Ministry or were not admitted to the NSU trial by the prosecution.

Brigitte Böhnhardt 
Photo: Michael Reichel/dpa

Brigitte Böhnhardt was in touch with the NSU trio in hiding

Several lawyers of the victims' families as well as Beate Zschäpe's and Ralf Wohlleben's defense lawyers request that these files be declassified. A decision is pending. The same is true for petitions made by joint plaintiffs to call as witnesses the employee's colleagues and investigators who worked with him.

More witnesses

Uwe Böhnhardt's mother Brigitte Böhnhardt takes the stand on Tuesday (19.11.13.) She has already admitted that she and her husband met with their son - who went into hiding in 1998 - and his accomplices Uwe Mundlos and Beate Zschäpe several times until 2002.

Initially, Brigitte Böhnhardt was scheduled to take the stand last week. But the interrogation of the hairdresser whose medical insurance card was used by the trial's main defendant dragged on. Judge Manfred Götzl deemed her testimony implausible enough that not only Silvia S. will have to appear before court once more: her husband will also be called as a witness. He is a long-time friend of Holger G., one of the defendants facing charges related to assisting the NSU.

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