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German minister: Can't prosecute Putin as head of state

Jon Shelton
June 9, 2022

Marco Buschmann told DW that Germany is collecting evidence against Putin and others for war crimes prosecutions. He said a structural investigation has been opened to collect evidence in Russia's war of aggression.

German Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann speaks with DW's Marina Strauss (not pictured) in Luxembourg
Buschmann says evidence collected now will be used against perpetrators when they are inevitably arrested in EuropeImage: DW

Russian war crimes: What can Germany do?

German Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann told DW that although evidence is being gathered in Russia's war in Ukraine, Berlin is currently powerless to prosecute Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"From the German perspective, we cannot prosecute Vladimir Putin as long as he is an active head of state," the minister said on Thursday.

Buschmann made the comments while speaking with DW's Marina Strauss in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of a meeting of EU justice ministers in Luxembourg.

Nevertheless, Buschmann said Germany is pursuing other routes in an effort to bring those involved in facilitating or committing war crimes to justice.

"Germany has opened a so-called structural investigation. And this specific structural investigation is the reason we are now systematically collecting and securing evidence, so that we can use it in criminal proceedings later, when we apprehend perpetrators," the justice minister said.

Buschmann continued, "When we get these people [war criminals, high-ranking commanders, etc.], because, for instance, they happen to be somewhere in Europe, and we have evidence against them, we will put them on trial."

War crimes meeting held at The Hague

The justice minister added that Germany would naturally offer any evidence it collects to other institutions pursuing convictions for crimes committed during the course of Russia's invasion and ongoing war in Ukraine. He specifically noted that Berlin is willing to hand over evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

Buschmann welcomed news that the ICC had appointed an investigative team headed by Eurojust, the European Agency for Criminal Justice, calling the coordinated effort "a good sign" that could help ensure that "no war criminals escape punishment."

'Important to maintain identity as a country of laws'

On the subject of confiscating property and assets from Russian oligarchs, Justice Minister Buschmann was clear about the need for evidence.

"We can't just confiscate someone's property because they are rich and come from Russia. But if we can prove someone aided … that war crimes were committed … then German criminal law offers instruments like asset recovery. And when we can prove such crimes in a criminal case, then of course we can seize their assets."

Buschmann told DW, however, that one thing remained paramount: "It is really important to me that we maintain our identity as a country of laws in this conflict. Even criminals and people who do awful things must be dealt with in a fair and just fashion, because to treat them otherwise would mean that we lose a piece of ourselves. And doing so would likely mean that Vladimir Putin would also win a bit."

The interview was conducted in Luxembourg by DW's Marina Strauss.

Edited by: Rebecca Staudenmaier