Germany's highest court today temporarily suspended a hearing on whether to ban a right-wing political party, after learning that a prominent member of the party leadership worked as an undercover investigator, supplying information about the party's activities to the government. The hearing had been scheduled to begin next month, but officials say it is now unclear whether the case will go ahead at all.
Munich, 23 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The political organization involved in the scandal is the National Democratic Party (NPD), which the German government and parliament call a threat to the country's democracy.
A year ago, the NPD was accused by the German government of responsibility for hundreds of anti-Semitic acts, including attacks on synagogues and the desecration of Jewish graves. It was also accused of sponsoring and supporting attacks on immigrants and refugees, some of which resulted in serious injury.
After months of deliberation, a petition was presented to the Federal Constitutional Court to ban the party. Separate petitions were filed by the government, the Federal Parliament, and by the Bundesrat, the legislative body that represents the interests of individual German states. The applications accused the NPD of "aggressively trying to undermine Germany's democratic order."
The Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe was to have begun preliminary hearings in the case on 5 February, but these were hurriedly canceled yesterday after the court learned that a prominent leader of the federal leadership of the NPD had once been an undercover investigator hired by the government to gain information about the party.
A spokesman for the Constitutional Court said today that part of the case against the NPD rests on anti-Semitic and racist comments made by this man in his capacity within the party. At the same time, the government had expected to use some of the information he had gathered against his own party.
In a statement today, the Constitutional Court called it a "confusing situation." It decided to cancel the hearings until it decides whether the legal situation allows the hearings to go ahead. The court spokesman said it is possible the case has been so compromised that it will have to be dropped.
But leading politicians from both the government and opposition parties say the case against the NPD should go on. Bavarian Interior Minister Guenther Beckstein says there is sufficient evidence to ban the NPD even without the evidence presented by this particular individual.
The same view is expressed by Dieter Wiefelspitz, a leading member of the Social Democratic party in the federal government.
"In practice, this is not a decisive factor. This informer and his statements can be discarded. The NPD remains hostile to the constitution, aggressive, and anti-Semitic. It must be banned."
Another senior member of the SPD, Franz Munterfering, also says he believes the Constitutional Court should carry on with the case. He says the philosophy of the NPD is based on the national socialism of the Nazis.
"It's my opinion that the NPD is unacceptable, regardless of the actions of an individual. A party which finds its rationale in national socialism should be banned."
The man at the center of the dispute has not been identified. A government statement today said only that he had been employed by the North Rhine-Westfalia branch of the internal intelligence agency to infiltrate the NPD and report on its activities. At the time, he was already on the fringe of the right-wing movements in Germany.
Interior Minister Otto Schily, who is responsible for the internal intelligence services, defended himself for two hours today before a parliamentary committee. He said the agent had been hired in the 1980s to infiltrate the NPD but had been fired in 1995 because of what Schily called his "increasingly radical" racist comments.
According to Schily, the comments that were to be used in the case against the NPD were made after 1998 -- in other words, long after he had stopped working for the security agency.
What was originally a justice scandal blew up today into a political dispute when it was revealed that up to 100 members of the NPD are also working undercover for the internal intelligence agency.
The "Suddeutsche Zeitung" newspaper in Munich described this as irresponsible and said it could lead to suggestions that the German state is acting as an "agent provocateur." But it noted that the blame rests not only with the federal and state governments in Germany but also with many of those that preceded it.