Chinese authorities have released German citizen Nils Jennrich, who had been accused of evading taxes. The decision comes just a few days before Chinese PM Li Keqiang holds political talks in Berlin.
Nils Jennrich is now back in Germany. The 32-year-old employee of an art handling company was permitted to leave China on Tuesday, May 21, after 14 months, in which time no formal charges were brought against him.
The timing of his release does not seem to be a coincidence. On Saturday, May 25, Chinese Prime Minster Li Keqiang will arrive in Berlin.
Jennrich's case has now apparently been wiped off the table so as not to cast a shadow over the upcoming political talks in Berlin. The German Federal Foreign Office has not provided any details as to what exactly led to Jennrich's departure from China, but noted on its website that the proceedings were ongoing.
Thus the case ends just as mysteriously as it began 14 months ago. Nils Jennrich was arrested and interrogated for hours on end at the end of March 2012. He was then remanded in custody in a cell with 12 other prisoners, as he told the German public broadcaster ARD in Beijing a few weeks ago.
"I always thought the whole thing was just a misunderstanding, a mistake. It was quite upsetting to lay down and try to get any sleep not knowing who the other 12 people were, what they did and why they were in a cell. Or why I was locked up, for that matter."
Tricky "tax evasion"
The authorities accused Jennrich of tricking customs out of millions by deliberately declaring the value of the art works he was importing as much lower than they actually were.
"But I couldn't have even done that because we received the value of the art works from our customers, who were the owners of the pieces. We were just a service provider and could have not profited from this in any way," Jennrich noted.
Jennrich's company as well as people who know that kind of business agree that the allegations are baseless. But they cannot be dropped because no formal charges have been brought against him. With the authorities simply idly standing by, Jennrich seems to have just been forgotten in jail - stuck between the bureaucratic cogs of China's justice machinery.
It is unclear whether there were other motives behind his arrest. Representatives of German business interests in China have followed the story with unease. After multiple appeals from politicians in Berlin, Jennrich was released from jail after around four months, but was forbidden from leaving the country.
The affair not only became a thorn in the eye for Sino-German ties, but it brought to international attention the misuse of authority and the lack of rule of law in China.
Now, Nils Jennrich is back in Germany. Prime Minster Li Keqiang will also be in Germany on the weekend, now that the table has been cleared for political talks. There are enough topics on the agenda, the latest being recent trade conflicts between China and Europe, especially the planned protectionist duties on Chinese solar panels. Talks are planned with Chancellor Merkel and President Joachim Gauck. On Monday, Li Keqiang plans talks with Philipp Rösler, German economics minister, Sigmar Gabriel, head of the social democrat party and the social democrat candidate for chancellor Peer Steinbrück.