Honecker judge dismissed

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The Independent Online
IN AN extraordinary new twist to the trial of Erich Honecker, East Germany's former leader, the Berlin judge presiding over the case was dismissed yesterday after it was revealed that he had lied to the court.

Judge Hansgeorg Brautigam was forced to step down for failing to give a truthful explanation of a brief, private conversation he had with Mr Honecker and his lawyers during an adjournment of the case on 21 December.

When asked what the conversation had been about, Mr Brautigam said he had been handing over mail. On Monday, however, he admitted that his real purpose had been to ask Mr Honecker to autograph a book on behalf of one of the jurors in the trial.

Although Mr Brautigam said the incident should not disqualify him from continuing as presiding judge, legal authorities in Berlin ruled yesterday that his unbiased position had been compromised and that he should be replaced by one of his deputies.

The judge's removal prompted speculation that the trial against the ailing 80-year-old Mr Honecker, which began in November and continues tomorrow, could be brought to a speedier end.

The former Communist leader, charged with manslaughter in connection with 13 deaths at the Berlin Wall and the former inner-German border, is suffering from liver cancer and is not expected to live many more months.

With Mr Honecker's physical condition deteriorating with every week the trial continues, defence lawyers have made repeated calls for the proceedings to be halted on medical grounds - thereby successfully diverting attention from the real issues at stake.

Even before Mr Brautigam was caught out lying to the court, the defence lawyers requested his removal on the grounds that he was prejudiced.