Spymaster steps from shadow into courtroom limelight

The "man without a face" made a triumphant entry into the bunker, turning his cheek towards the cameras and acknowledging well-wishers with a haughty nod. Markus Wolf, one-time superspy, strutted in the limelight with a familiarity belying his long life in the dark; in the shadowy world of espionage.

For most of the three decades that he ran East Germany's foreign intelligence service, the HVA, his Western adversaries could not even put a face to the name. Now his image fills television screens, his punditry commands exorbitant fees, a book entitled Secrets of Russian Cuisine pays the bills, and the last Cold warrior is about to hit stardom with a seminal work on the Cold War.

All that stands in the way of minting fame into fortune is a little misunderstanding with the German judiciary, who keep trying to throw him into jail. And so Mr Wolf returned yesterday to the windowless Dusseldorf courtroom where he was once convicted of treason, but this time as a common criminal.

Then - he was absolved by the highest court in the land, which ruled that East Germans who had spied on West Germany had committed no crime in their own country. Now - the prosecution is citing the East German penal code in an attempt to convict him on charges of abduction, coercion, and causing grievous bodily harm.

"My accusers have revealed no more than methods that have belonged to all secret services of all ages," Mr Wolf said, staring at his prosecutors. "Neither the constitution, nor the law of the country I served were violated." If he had ordered the kidnapping and brutalisation of innocents, then his actions had been no worse than those of the other side.

In response to the charge that he had ordered the imprisonment of a former Gestapo employee, Mr Wolf took a dig at the Western inclination to turn a blind eye: "Contrary to the West German secret services, the uncovering of former Nazi henchmen was one of the legitimate tasks of the HVA," he declared.

It was dedication to root out "Hitler-fascism" and to defend "socialism" that had driven him, he said. As if to justify his actions, Mr Wolf dwelt at length on his colourful life, his famed memory deserting him only when he was asked about the date of his third marriage.

His parents, atheist Jews who joined the Communist Party in 1928, fled Germany in 1933 after the burning of the Reichstag. Markus - or "Misha" - grew up in Moscow, and was educated at a school for German communists where teachers and pupils would often disappear in a Stalinist purge. Misha studied to be an aircraft engineer, but after the outbreak of war he was ordered to enrol in the Comintern's school for promising leaders of the future satellite states.

He returned to Germany shortly after the surrender, working as a propagandist for the Russian "liberators". Eventually, he became an East German diplomat in Moscow and then a party apparatchik in East Berlin.

On his career between 1955 and 1986, Mr Wolf remained silent, but he appeared keen to talk about his relatively short flirtation with journalism. In 1946, he covered the Nuremberg trials, which some commentators today regard as the precedent for bringing leaders of the East German regime to justice.

"It was a deeply emotional experience, one which I will never forget," Mr Wolf said yesterday, his now famous face betraying not a hint of irony.

The trial is expected to last until the end of March.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory