Skepticism over Maas decision
High-ranking German politicians have lined up to criticize the justice minister's decision to call for the dismissal of a federal prosecutor.
On Tuesday, Heiko Maas told a hastily called press conference at the Justice Ministry in Berlin that he would ask for early retirement for Harald Range, who had attempted to prosecute a pair of journalists on treason charges for allegedly publishing state secrets. The 67-year-old Range had planned to retire next year.
Some politicians have accused Maas of holding a grudge against Range's agency. "The little war between the Federal Prosecutor's Office and the Justice Ministry cannot continue like this," Thomas Strobl, a Christian Democrat deputy chairman, told the liberal-conservative newspaper "Die Welt" in an article published in its Wednesday edition. "People are not sympathetic to this kind of internal preoccupation."
When "Netzpolitik.org" announced the investigation into two of its journalists last week after they quoted from a security document earlier this year, many in the media expressed fears over a crackdown on the press and whistleblowers.
'Suffered lasting damage'
On Tuesday, Range said the Justice Ministry ordered him to withdraw an independent expert's report that had determined that the documents the journalists had received from an unidentified source were "state secrets" - one requirement for a treason case.
Maas called Range's claim false, and said they had decided together to withdraw the document on Friday. The justice minister added that he could no longer trust Range after his accusations of political interference and his decision to go public.
"The remarks and the chosen course of action by the federal prosecutor today are not comprehensible and give the public a false impression," Maas said in Berlin.
In a statement Tuesday, Maas said he had made the decision to sack Range with the support of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Through a spokeswoman, the chancellor had previously indicated that Maas had her "full support" after he expressed doubts last Friday that the action of the two journalists from the website "Netzpolitik.org" amounted to treason.
Maas also announced on Tuesday that he had nominated Munich prosecutor Peter Frank as Range's successor. The justice minister said he had informed the prosecutor of the decision prior to the press conference.
"I have told federal prosecutor Range that my trust in his ability to fulfill the office has suffered lasting damage and therefore, in agreement with the chancellery, I will request his retirement today," Maas said.
Greens parliamentary vice chairman Konstantin von Notz echoed talk of a feud at the highest level of German law enforcement, calling the whole affair an "unprecedented scandal" and a potential "fiasco" for Maas if Range's allegations prove true. Other critics have said that the prosecutor's office must be free to engage its investigations without political interference.
mkg/cmk (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)