German spy chief faces calls to resign over far-right links
Hans-Georg Maassen revealed details of a report on German extremists to a hard-right MP
Germany's top spy is under fire for cultivating close ties to far-right groups after it emerged that he shared parts of his annual report with a contact in the country’s populist, anti-migration party.
Hans-Georg Maassen revealed the number of Islamist extremists in the country to Stephan Brandner, a parliament member for the hard-right Alternative for Germany (AFD) five weeks before a report containing the information was due to be officially published.
"We talked about different figures that are in there," Mr Brandner told public broadcaster ARD. Each summer the BfV, Germany's domestic intelligence service that Mr Maassen heads, details the extent of extremist groups in and their current threat level.
Mr Maassen denied wrongdoing and said the personal meeting on June 13, 2018 was part of interior ministry instructions to update parliamentarians on potential security risks.
The revelation came after Mr Maassen was criticised for appearing to downplay reports of far-right protesters making Nazi salutes, and for saying a video purporting to show the harassment of migrants in the city of Chemnitz was fake. His comments directly went against the condemnation of the clashes by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Constantine von Notz, a parliament member for the Green Party, said the information should only have been disclosed to a small group of people. "Through his speculation and the open ignorance of right-wing extremist structures Hans-Georg Maassen has once again massively harmed the reputation of the constitution," he added.
Opposition parties have already called for Mr Maassen to resign over allegations he has far-right views. The AFD holds 94 seats in Germany’s Bundestag and has been accused of being Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and of having links to neo-Nazi groups.
"I don't expect any trustworthy assessments from Mr. Maassen any more," said Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the parliamentary party leader for the Greens. "The fact that he only commented on a video, but not on the acts of violence and the public displays of anti-constitutional symbols in Chemnitz, shows me that Mr. Maassen is not up to the job,” she told German media.
Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament said on Wednesday the AFD were using the “classic tactic of fascism” by blaming migrants and other groups for Germany’s problems.
In late August, a German man was stabbed to death in Chemnitz, Saxony. When it emerged the alleged perpetrators were Iraqi and Syrian refugees, hundreds of far-right marchers filled the streets the next day demanding all undocumented migrants be deported.
Mr Maassen then stirred controversy in an interview with Bild earlier this week saying: “I share the scepticism towards media reports of right-wing extremists chasing down [foreigners] in Chemnitz.”
“There is good reason to believe that this is deliberate misinformation, possibly to distract the public's attention from the murder in Chemnitz,” he added.
Mr Maassen has largely been protected and supported by his boss, the conservative interior minister Horst Seehofer. No stranger to controversy himself either, Mr Seehofer has also offered verbal support for the protests.
"There is a lot of… outrage in the population about this murder, as I understand. If I were not a minister, I would have taken to the streets as a citizen, of course, not together with radicals," he said.
Updated: September 13, 2018 06:03 PM