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Germany: Prosecutors Trying To Prove Fischer Lied

German prosecutors are investigating Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, following allegations he lied during a recent court appearance about whether he did or did not live with a certain woman almost 30 years ago. The judge in the original case has criticized the investigation, pointing out that among other things, Fischer was not under oath when he made the testimony. RFE/RL Munich correspondent Roland Eggleston reports on the German foreign minister's most recent problems.

Munich, 20 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The investigation into Joschka Fischer's past is focused on testimony that the German foreign minister gave last month during a trial of former terrorist Hans-Joachim Klein. Klein was sentenced to nine years in prison for an attack in Vienna in 1975 in which three people were killed.

Fischer, who was a leader of the German revolutionary movement in the 1960s and 1970s, appeared only as a voluntary witness to discuss Klein's character. He was not under oath when he gave his testimony.

During the hearing, Fischer was asked whether he had lived with former terrorist Margrit Schiller in 1973. He answered: "No, I have never lived together with her." Under further questioning, Fischer said it was possible Schiller had stayed in the same building -- but not in his apartment.

But Schiller, who now lives in South America, says in an autobiography that she did stay for a few days in Fischer's apartment.

That is the basis of an investigation by prosecutors in the federal state of Hesse, who say that Fischer lied and should be punished.

The investigation is just the latest in a series of problems tied to Fischer's past that have come to light in recent weeks. Earlier, a photograph appeared showing Fischer assaulting a policeman as a young radical in the 1970s. The charges have raised the question of whether Fischer's character is suited to his position as foreign minister.

The Hesse investigation has drawn criticism by some who say the charges are politically motivated. Opinion polls show Fischer, a member of the left-leaning Green Party, to be the country's most popular politician.

One of the sharpest critics of the investigation has been judge Heinrich Gehrke, who presided over Klein's trial. He told reporters the move by Hesse prosecutors was highly unusual. He said it was unlikely that anyone could remember with whom they had breakfast almost 30 years ago. Judge Gehrke said he believed that in the end Fischer would not be found guilty of any kind of legal impropriety:

"There is nothing in the facts to justify this case, but others see it differently, and we must await the outcome. In my view nothing will come out of it."

Gehrke said there are special provisions in the law to protect those who made incorrect statements when they were not under oath. He said prosecutors would have to prove Fischer deliberately lied. He said it would be difficult to make such a case against someone who was responding to an unexpected question after 27 years.

The Prosecutor-General in Hesse, Hans-Christoph Schaefer, has rejected Gehrke's criticisms and says he does not need instruction from the judge in this case.

Another Hesse prosecutor, Job Tilman, denied that the decision to investigate Fischer had been politically motivated.

"I reject that. There was no political influence; no one expressed a political wish that this case be pursued or that it be expedited."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says Fischer has his full support. Schroeder referred directly to the critical comments by the judge Gehrke.

The strongest criticism of Fischer has come from the Bavarian state Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, whose government is a sister-party to the main opposition party, the CDU.

Stoiber has focused his comments on Fischer's attendance at a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Algiers in 1969 -- when Fischer was 21 years old. The meeting ended with a resolution denying Israel's right to exist.

Stoiber argues Fischer's presence at such a conference, even as a young man, casts doubt on his ability to represent Germany abroad.

However another German who took part in the conference, Michael Schwiedrzik, has told interviewers that Fischer did not speak at the meeting and described the youthful delegation of five German left-wingers as "unimportant."

Israel's ambassador in Germany has since issued a statement noting that Fischer has given steadfast support to Israel and the cause of peace in the Middle East since he took office in 1998.

German legal experts say the investigation against Fischer could continue for several weeks.

They say a thorough investigation could involve sending a prosecutor to South America to interview Margrit Schiller to learn if she could prove whether she spent a night in Fischer's apartment 27 years ago.