German politician accused of hiring hitman to kill wife

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The Independent Online

Jurors trying a case involving a former minister, his wife, a Ukrainian beauty and a conman posing as a hitman were shown a videotape of the politician's final encounter with the assassin he allegedly hired to kill his estranged spouse.

The tale of Jochen Wolf, former construction minister of the state of Brandenburg, has captivated Germany's tabloid newspapers in recent months. Mr Wolf has admitted to police that he hired a contract killer, named only as Ralf M, for the sum of DM15,000 (about £5,000).

Mr Wolf, now aged 60, had been forced to resign from the Brandenburg state cabinet in 1993 after a financial scandal. Until his arrest last summer, he was in charge of East European affairs at the regional economics ministry.

His last job is pertinent to the case, not only because of the role played by a young Ukrainian interpreter named Oksana Kuznetsova, but also because Mr Wolf was on an official visit to Ukraine when Mrs Wolf, in the words of the hired killer, was to be "sent on a journey".

But Ralf M, as Mr Wolf discovered at the moment of his arrest at Zoo railway station in Berlin, was no killer. He had accepted a DM5,000 downpayment on the contract, but informed detectives about the alleged plot after being arrested on another matter.

The police arranged for a wiretap and taped six telephone conversations between Ralf and the politician. The tapes were played to the court in Potsdam yesterday and in one conversation, on 23 July last year, the two men agreed that Ursula Wolf, the politician's fourth wife, was to be killed in "the coming days".

When Mr Wolf returned from his trip to Ukraine, he and Ralf set up a meeting at the railway station. "Listen, I got rid of your wife," said Ralf, and demanded his money. "I shall pay when there is an official confirmation," the politician replied. At that point the police moved in.

Mrs Wolf is still alive and will be testifying against her husband. Ms Kuznetsova, with whom Mr Wolf had been having an affair, shot herself with the politician's gun in his bath in December 1998. A day before her suicide, she had wrestled with the jealous wife in the woods. Mrs Wolf is alleged to have threatened her with a gun.

Mr Wolf has yet to plead. He is alleged to have put out a contract on his wife once before, but the hitman returned the money without having done the job. Whether the alleged plot was born of revenge for Ms Kuznetsova's death or merely to save on his divorce settlement is not clear.

The trial is expected to last another month.