The head of German intelligence has been forced to resign after explosive revelations that his agents destroyed and manipulated files containing information about a neo-Nazi terror cell behind the country's worst far-right violence since the Second World War.
Heinz Fromm, 63, said he took responsibility for the actions of staff who shredded seven intelligence documents, left out key information from computer files and lied to their superiors at the height of an inquiry into neo-Nazi terrorists last November. The resignation after reports about the shredded documents were leaked to the media last week.
Outraged politicians said the shredded files left the agency open to "every possible suspicion", including the notion that neo-Nazis were on its payroll or that agents themselves had neo-Nazi sympathies. The destroyed documents contained background information on members of the National Socialist Underground (NSU).
Over a decade, the neo-Nazi terrorist cell murdered a female police officer, shot dead nine immigrants, injured more than 20 people in two bomb attacks and robbed 14 banks to finance its operations. Police discovered the bodies of the gang's two ringleaders, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, in a burnt-out caravan in eastern Germany in November last year. Investigators established that they had committed suicide after robbing a bank. A third gang member was caught and arrested and is still being questioned.
The gang would shoot immigrant Turkish and Greek street vendors and a nail bomb detonated by the group in a crowded Turkish district of Cologne in 2004 injured 22 people. For more than a decade, police ruled out any neo-Nazi involvement. It only dawned that a far-right terrorist cell was behind the attacks after following up leads from the bank robbery last year.
At the weekend, it was revealed that the agent who shredded the seven files was a high-ranking officer who worked for a department specialising in surveillance of the extreme right in Cologne. He is said to have destroyed the documents on 11 November last year – the same day that federal prosecutors took over the investigation of the case. The Cologne agents were also said to have deliberately left out important surveillance information from computer files and claimed this was for "operative reasons".
The scandal is set to remain in the headlines this week, with Mr Fromm scheduled to give evidence before a parliamentary committee investigating the matter on Thursday.