Werner Mauss, a privatised James Bond licensed to mingle with terrorists and pay them off, was travelling in the company of a bogus wife under one of his numerous aliases. The "couple" had six forged passports between them, a .38 calibre Smith & Wesson revolver, and three gold credit cards issued by the Dresdner Bank.
According to Colombian police, Mr Mauss had paid $1.8m dollars (pounds 1m) in ransom for Brigitte Schone, the wife of the former local manager of BASF, a large German chemicals concern with extensive interests in Medellin. She had been abducted three months earlier by guerrillas of the pro-Cuba National Liberation Army (ELN).
Mr Mauss was identified with the help of the distinguishing mark listed in his Interpol files: a missing thumb tip. The Col-ombian press also reported that he was carrying a letter issued by the German embassy in Bogota, certifying that the "couple" had lost their passports and were on official business.
What this might have been, however, remains a mystery. The payment of ransom money is illegal in Colombia, but Mr Mauss could have still engineered the kidnap victim's release locally, avoiding the extra complication of chartering a plane and fleeing abroad. "I myself wondered why I was given a false passport and was to fly to Venezuela," Ms Schone said after being freed.
Breaking the law, has never stopped Mr Mauss, 56, who isdescribed by the former head of Germany's Federal Criminal Office as "our secret weapon". He does not like to use his real name and is on the run from several convictions. Last year, a Belgian court sentenced him to jail in abstentia for trying to bribe the country's police chief.
He may be a rogue, but he is handsomely rewarded for his actions and hailed as a hero in the Fatherland. His position is that of a "V-Man" - a freelance agent hired by the government or large companies to carry out missions that are off-limits to the state. His name does not appear on the staff list of the BND, the German secret service, but official payments have been traced to his bank account.
Mr Mauss, who runs his business out of a fortified villa in Germany's Hunsruck region and flies a private jet, first found the limelight in 1976. He had been "sponsored" by three companies and the government - the latter to the tune of DM250,000 (pounds 100,000) - to hunt down Rolf Pohle, an urban terrorist. Mr Mauss found his man in Athens, promptly arrested him, but Germany never succeeded in having their suspect extradited. Mr Pohle still lives in Greece, eking out a meagre existence by giving German lessons.
More successful was his mission, in 1976, to recover treasures stolen from Cologne Cathedral. His triumph led to more commissions, and then to the lucrative kidnap market.
In recent years, he has been linked to even more unorthodox activities, and his name surfaces in the biggest unsolved puzzle of the past decade. In October 1987, Uwe Barschel, a prominent Christian Democrat leader in the centre of a murky political scandal, was found murdered in a bath tub in a Geneva hotel room. Very little is known about the affair, except that Mr Mauss was in Geneva that day and met Mr Barschel. That was the last time anyone saw Mr Barschel alive.Reuse content