Former Bavarian interior minister, Günther Beckstein, has strongly denied trying to influence a police investigation into a series of murders committed by the far-right NSU group.
At the end of January 2012, the German parliament set up a committee to look into why the police and domestic intelligence services failed to uncover a neo-Nazi group which, it was later discovered, was responsible for the murder of nine foreigners and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007.
The inquiry found after questioning countless witnesses that the security authorities had failed across the board. A toxic mixture of bureaucratic turf wars and incompetence allowed the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU) to go undetected for years.
Not until November of last year did the authorities discover the group and its links to the series of murders.
One question, in particular, was a big headache from the very beginning for the members of the parliamentary inquiry: Why was an extremist right-wing involvement in the attacks more or less brushed aside, although there were early indications that this was the case?
In Bavaria, where five of the ten murders took place, one expert in the murder investigation considered a neo-Nazi motive possible. However, the state's interior minister at the time, Günther Beckstein, warned against voicing these suspicions publicly to avoid unrest within the Turkish community.
The trio responsible for the murder of nine foreigners and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007
Concerns about Germany's image?
Petra Pau, a member of the NSU inquiry and the Left Party, was convinced that political influence could have been exercised on the investigation in 2006 due to the World Cup soccer championships, which Germany hosted that summer. The motto of this classic sports event was "The world visiting with friends." Pau speculates that the series of mysterious murders of people with foreign roots -possibly with neo-Nazis behind them - was something that did not fit in with the picture.
The Berlin parliamentarians recalled a discussion in early 2006 about alleged "no go areas" in eastern Germany. The US State Department warned American tourists - especially those with a dark skin color - not to travel through that part of Germany. A former government spokesman, Uwe-Karsten Heye issued a similar warning before the start of the World Cup in his function as chairman of the anti-racism group "Stand up for a tolerant Germany". Heye's warning unleashed a controversial debate about the extent of xenophobia in eastern Germany at the time.
'Nothing to hide'
The World Cup opening match was played at the Bavarian capital Munich in the south of the country. Bavaria's then Premier Beckstein, who this Thurday will have to answer to the NSU inquiry, has dismiss the notion that there had been any political influence on the police investigations at the time. In newspaper interviews, he said that neither he nor the Bavarian police had "anything to hide."
The 68-year old stressed that those murders were the most distressing during his time in office. The first crime scene was in fact less than a kilometer from his home in Nuremberg. Beckstein says that he himself often went to the flower shop of the victim of the first murder.
Schäuble could be the next witness
The NSU inquiry wants to find out whether - as Beckstein claims - there really were no clues pointing towards a right-wing extremist background to the crimes. Aside from looking at possible mistakes the police made, they also have to investigate possible political responsibility. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble might therefore be the next who will have to answer to the panel. In 2006 he was interior minister and in this position he regularly attended meetings between his regional colleagues. Some members of the NSU inquiry believe that there was indeed a failed attempt to hand the investigation over to the national police authorities. The political responsibility for the national police at the time was held by Wolfgang Schäuble.
Author: Marcel Fürstenau / ai
Editor: Richard Connor