German defence ministry aided neo-Nazi project

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The German government is under fire over the army's links to neo- Nazis. Imre Karacs reports from Bonn on the latest revelations.

The German Defence Minister was yesterday accused of misleading parliament over army donations to a neo-Nazi led organisation which seeks to repopulate East Prussia with Aryan stock.

On Wednesday Volker Ruhe had told the Bundestag's defence committee that his ministry had been unaware that the beneficiary of its largesse had been the convicted neo-Nazi terrorist Manfred Roedel. But according to an investigative report aired on national television last night, Roeder's name appeared on the begging letters sent to the ministry.

Roeder, one of the best-known neo-Nazis in Germany, had spent eight years in jail for a multitude of crimes, including arson at a refugee home which claimed the lives of two Vietnamese immigrants. According to the television report, he had first approached the defence ministry in 1993, three years after his release from jail.

Roeder wanted help for his organisation - a registered charity - to conduct "humanitarian work" in the Kaliningrad region of Russia, formerly known as Konigsberg. The aim of the "charity" was never concealed: to gather ethnic Germans from all over the former Soviet Union in the now Russified city of Kaliningrad.

At the recommendation of the German foreign ministry, Roeder received from the army a van and two smaller vehicles, as well as tools and smaller donations. In 1995 Roeder was invited to lecture at the Bundeswehr academy about his "humanitarian" work.

"Roeder's appearance at the Academy shows that we are unfortunately not dealing with just a couple of drink-crazed thugs in uniform," commented retired general Gerd Schmuckle yesterday. "The scandal reveals staggering weaknesses in leadership at the Hardthohe [Defence Ministry]."

Mr Ruhe's assertion is that Roeder had somehow duped his way into the Academy, and nobody noticed with whom they were dealing. Furthermore, the defence ministry claims that the vehicles for Roeder's "charitable" work were obtained by another member of the organisation not noted for neo-Nazi activities. Germany keeps detailed lists of political extremists, which are circulated to all government departments. Roeder would have been somewhere in the top 10 of these lists.

If it emerges that the ministry had dealt with Roeder in person in its official correspondence, Mr Ruhe's last line of defence - sheer stupidity - collapses. In yesterday's heated parliamentary debate, the Green MP Angelika Beer directly accused the minister of lying.

The Greens and the Social Democrats are jointly calling for a parliamentary inquiry, beyond the independent inquest ordered by Mr Ruhe.

Once regarded as one of two possible successors to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Mr Ruhe's political prospects now appear limited to hanging on until elections next September.