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Deutschland innogy Bilanzpressekonferenz 2017 | Bernhard Günther
Image: picture alliance/SvenSimon

Attack on executive not the first in Germany

March 5, 2018

Innogy Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Bernhard Günther has become the victim of an acid attack. There are no current leads yet, but could there be political reasons for the crime, as a German tabloid suggests?


Bernhard Günther, chief financial officer (CFO) of energy company Innogy, was severely injured on Sunday, when two unknown men poured acid over his face as he was returning home from a bakery. The attackers, reported to be between 20 and 30 years old, attacked Günther in a park some 200 meters (yards) away from his apartment in Haan, a small town near Dusseldorf. He was reportedly able to walk home despite sustaining life-threatening injuries. Doctors say he is currently in stable condition.

The perpetrators remain at large.

Dusseldorf police said they were investigating "in every direction," but had no current leads to the motive.

This was not the first attack on Günther, according to the authorities. The 51-year-old was also assaulted and beaten up several years ago. The police were now probing to see if the two incidents were linked, Germany's DPA news agency reported.

According to German tabloid Bild, investigators were also probing whether the attack had anything to do with the ongoing fight between environmentalists and the energy company RWE over the Hambacher Forst, a forest between the western cities of Cologne and Aachen.

RWE, Germany's second largest power utility, is operating a huge open-pit lignite mine there, and environmentalists have repeatedly tried to stop mining company vehicles from entering the woods.

Innogy, the acid attack victim's employer, is, however, not involved in mining in that forest. In 2016, the company was created as a separate entity for RWE's renewable energy generation, network and retail business, while fossil fuel plants and mining remained with RWE. Bernhard Günther had been an RWE employee since 1999, before becoming CFO at Innogy.

Fight for Hambach Forest

Another theory is that the attack on Günther was actually aimed to lower the value of his company. This was the alleged motive of the suspect blamed for the last year's attack on the bus transporting Borussia Dortmund footballers.

Although there is no immediate link between Günther's professional role and the reason for the attack, it wouldn't be the first time that a business representative in Germany is attacked, injured or even killed for his job and all that it symbolizes.

Deutschland - Polizeibeamte stehen am Wrack der Herrhausen-Limousine in Bad Homburg 1989
Deutsche Bank CEO Alfred Herrhausen was killed in 1989 when his car was bombedImage: picture-alliance/dpa/K.U. Wärner

Political attacks

In 2006, economist Thomas Straubhaar, head of the Hamburg based research institute HWWI, had his house smeared with color bombs and his car burned. The perpetrators are still unknown, but in an open letter, a left-wing autonomous group claimed responsibility. They had singled out Straubhaar for his role in "attacking the proletariat and people in precarious employment." According to the letter, the prominent economist had supported a change in German laws which effectively reduced support for recipients of welfare and unemployment payments.

In April 1991, Detlev Rohwedder was killed by a sniper who shot him through the window of his house in Dusseldorf. Rohwedder, a former business manager, had just taken on his new job as head of the Treuhandanstalt, an agency charged with privatizing thousands of companies formerly owned by the government of East Germany. The Red Army Faction (RAF), a radical left-wing terrorist group, claimed responsibility for the killing. The perpetrators were never found.

The RAF also claimed responsibility for the assassination of Alfred Herrhausen, the CEO of Deutsche Bank, Germany's largest financial institution. On November 30, 1989, a roadside bomb detonated when Herrhausen's specially armored car drove by, killing the banker. Nobody has ever been charged with the murder.

Schleyer Entführung RAF
When Hanns Martin Schleyer, head of the employers' association, was abducted in 1977, his driver and three policemen diedImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R.Scheidemann

Red Army Faction terror

Likewise, nobody has been convicted for the killing of Ernst Zimmermann, an airline industry executive, in 1985. The killers pretended to be postmen, and when Zimmermann and his wife opened the door, they stormed inside, tied the couple to chairs, and executed Zimmermann by shooting him in the head. Again, the RAF claimed responsibility for the assassination.

The year 1977 marked the high point of terror by the RAF, with the assassination of Dresdner Bank CEO Jürgen Ponto in July, and of Hanns Martin Schleyer, a business executive and president of the Confederation of German Employers' Association, in October. When Schleyer was kidnapped in September, his driver and three policeman were killed.

The German government decided not to negotiate with the terrorists, and Schleyer's abduction and subsequent killing are seen as the climax of a series of RAF terror attacks in 1977 known as the German Autumn.

The examples above show that whenever attacks against business executives were carried out for political reasons, they were soon followed by claims of responsibility by an organisation. In the case of Innogy manager Bernhard Günther, however, no such statement has been issued yet.


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