Woman who spied for love pays price

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"The defendant caused no serious damage to the Federal Republic of Germany," said the chief judge, before giving a verdict she no doubt felt was imbued with Solomonic wisdom.

Gabriele Albin, a 51-year old woman who had been tricked into spying for the Stasi, was found guilty of the crime of treason. The punishment: two years' suspended jail sentence, plus a fine of DM30,000 and costs, totalling a quarter of a million Deutschmarks.

It is a high price to pay for a love affair that proved to be one-sided, but Ms Albin was relieved to be free at last of the East German spies who first trapped her in a web of deceit, then helped to convict her, and free of the German state's vengeance. "I have waited for this moment for five years, four months and 21 days," she said. "All I want to do now is pay the bill and leave."

Her sentence could have been much worse. The state had asked for three years' imprisonment and a heavier fine, but the court accepted the defence argument that Ms Albin had not known she was spying for the East Germans.

She had been seduced in 1977 by a Stasi agent posing as a West German businessman, who persuaded her to steal military documents from the US embassy where she worked as a translator. He told Ms Albin that the documents were destined for a peace foundation.

The agent, who pretended to be her fiance, died last year. His colleagues and superiors, full-time cogs in the wheel of East Germany's machine of repression, were also given amnesties last year and recycled as prosecution witnesses. One by one they came into the Dusseldorf courtroom to testify against their former charge. She had had no inkling of their existence. They, it turned out, knew every intimate detail of her life.

The prosecution failed to prove that Ms Albin had benefited financially from her actions, while the judges accepted that she was under the complete emotional control of her Stasi "fiance". The defence also successfully argued that the stolen documents had posed little if any danger to the security of Germany or Nato.

But the court felt somebody had to be punished, and since the Stasi agents who masterminded the operation now enjoy legal immunity, Ms Albin was given a token sentence.

"My friends have urged me to go to the European Court, but they don't realise that I still have to go through two trials in Germany," she said.

Rather than appeal against a verdict she feels is unjust, she is selling her house and seeking permission to live abroad. The state's diligent bureaucrats, meanwhile, can draw comfort from the knowledge that another file has been tidied up.