Dagobert, Germany's cult criminal, goes in the dock

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The Independent Online
Theoretically, he is a criminal who could be jailed for 15 years. But few in Germany see things quite like that. Instead, the man in the dock is widely regarded as a folk hero.

"Of course, it's bad, what he did," said one Berliner this week. "But it's impressive, too, isn't it?" The man known to millions as Dagobert - the Uncle Scrooge character in Donald Duck cartoons - is still admired, not least for his criminal cheek. Arno Funke appeared in court in Berlin yesterday, charged with blackmail and attempted arson. He is accused of responsibility for six explosions in department stores.

But it is not the explosions Germans remember but his ability to make the police look spectacularly foolish in a succession of Clouseauesque episodes. Each time officers sought to ensnare him, Dagobert came up with a new wheeze.

He used home-made devices to get away with the cash. Thus, a metal box was released from the bottom of a train carriage, by remote control. Another time, he used the motor from a video-recorder to propel a remote- controlled mini-carriage along a deserted railway track.

Next, police left a bundle in a wooden crate, hoping to arrest Dagobert when he came to pick it up. But Dagobert emptied the crate from below, and escaped through the sewers. Then he used a directional microphone to listen to the police's secret plans.

Most popular of all was the deep doo-doo story: in October 1992, a policemen allegedly slipped in dog's excrement when he had laid hands on Dagobert. Dagobert escaped on his bike.

He became a cult figure: Dagobert postcards, Dagobert T-shirts, Dagobert jokes. The police pointed out people might have been injured or even killed. But the myth remained.

Paradoxically, Funke, 44, is now keen to demolish Dagobert the mighty. He has pleaded guilty to the charges, but yesterday said he had acted out of "despair". According to this version, he contemplated suicide, and dreamt up the department-store exploitsto save his financial situation - and thus his life.

Funke invented the Dagobert label, giving it as a codeword for a classified advert that was to be placed by the Karstadt department store when arranging a handover. Funke said yesterday that a bag with a picture of Dagobert gave him the idea. In addition: "I had to think about how Dagobert was swimming in money."

The police - whose bundles usually contained only worthless paper - finally caught up with him in April 1994, after six years and £4m spent on inquiries. They arrested Funke as he called police from a Berlin telephone kiosk with details of yet another planned handover. "All right," he said. "You've got me."