Armin Lehmann/Robert Birnbaum
“The Guerrillas trust the German Government”
German private detective Werner Mauss and the Civil War in Columbia
Private detective Mauss on his activities in Columbia and the role of Schmidbauer, ex-minister at the Federal Chancellery
Herr Mauss, do you know Paul Schäfer?
The name doesn't ring a bell ........
You have not heard of the notorious chief of the German “Colonia Dignidad” sect in Chile? He has been a fugitive from justice for many years and is being sought by Interpol. We thought that would be a case very much to your liking.
Oh, I see (laughs). No, we have so many dealings with Columbia that we're not able to worry about other countries.
But you're still active in Columbia, although during your imprisonment there Dr. Kohl's ex-minister at the Federal Chancellery, Schmidbauer, stated in the Bundestag [Federal Parliament] that if you were released you would certainly no longer have a chance to be of help there.
Well, political statements change. Every politician says things which may look totally different the following day. This is probably the case here as well.
You are in touch with Herr Schmidbauer again, even in Columbia. How did that happen?
Well, that needs a slightly more detailed explanation. My wife and I were released from detention on 25th July 1997. Almost a year later, on 20th May 1998, we were acquitted of all charges by the Highest Tribunal in Columbia. The court found that at no time had we broken any Colombian laws and that the detention was therefore unlawful. After our release in 1997 we were appointed by Columbia's National Peace Commission - chaired by the President - to revive the peace process with the guerrillas which had begun in 1996. This had been interrupted by our arrest. On behalf of the Federal Chancellery we had set the peace process in motion with Herr Schmidbauer. The renewed negotiations finally led to peace talks at Mainz and Himmelspforten last summer, under the aegis of the German Bishops' Conference.
Where was Herr Schmidbauer at the time?
The politicians wanted to stay out of this. Schmidbauer and the Chancellor did not wish this sensitive process to surface in the election campaign. That was why no politician from Germany was to be seen. After 40 years of civil war, Himmelspforten led to the first historic signing because certain agreements were reached. The ELN (the guerrillas, editor's note) promised, amongst other things, that they would no longer kidnap women, old people or children. After this, matters should have continued. The paramilitaries with their mass murders prevented it, though. All the ELN kidnappings after Himmelspforten were a reaction to these massacres. During further negotiations with the Colombian government the ELN made it a condition in August 1998 that we should continue to be available for the peace process. The ELN then gave us a mandate in November 1998 to mediate in the peace negotiations: we actually had intended to withdraw after the negotiations at Himmelspforten.
President Pastrana is no longer talking to the ELN at the present moment, though, and the German Undersecretary of State at the Federal Foreign Office, Volmer, recently described the ELN as a terrorist group with which one should not negotiate. How can you seriously push ahead with the peace process in this situation?
One has to know this conflict very well in order to understand why this war is escalating. Peace is possible, though. My wife and I have gained the necessary trust in order to bring the parties to the 'peace table'. The parties to this conflict are unable to negotiate on their own. There has to be a guarantor, a mediator, a government in between. And this government must not be tainted with Columbia's political past. This is why the Germans are well placed. The ELN would trust the German government. We have suggested that the new government should talk to the ELN. This has not been rejected. Since Red-Green [governmental alliance of Social Democratic Party-Green Party] did not wish to nominate a partner for the discussions themselves, though, they appointed Schmidbauer to hold exploratory talks with the first ELN commander.
Appointed by the Federal Government?
As I just explained, Schmidbauer was approached by the government and authorized to look into this. We then brought the leader of the ELN to Germany and openly stated that the ELN wished to end the conflict. In the final analysis, however, the Federal Government was unable to hold talks themselves. They did not wish to intervene before the Colombian Government had expressed a wish to this effect. And because the German Government did not yet wish to enter this process officially, Herr Schmidbauer was present during the most recent handover of hostages, at the request of the ELN. Schmidbauer has received a mandate from President Pastrana also to carry out negotiations for the remaining hostages. If the German government took over the mediation process, this mandate would pass to them.
You described your role as that of a helper. Did the previous government ever make use of this help?
Yes. We received instructions from the Federal Chancellery in 1995. We were to explore whether the ELN was ready for peace.
But the new government now no longer supports you.
I would not see it like that. Due to the change in government in Columbia and in Germany a new situation has arisen of course. Perhaps the new German government must first of all get to like a matter which was started by the previous one. There must be people available who deal with this matter. After the change in government a spokesperson for the parliamentary party of the SPD [German social democratic party] stated that, if it should prove necessary, Herr and Frau Mauss would continue to be supported.
Are you acting on instructions of the new government?
No, not that. The Federal Government always made it a condition that they will only intervene in a supporting role if the Colombian Government should request this.
There are people in the new government who reproached the Kohl government for falling back on you. Could you imagine that Red-Green might find it easier to play the role of mediator if you withdrew?
There are no problems in that direction. I was visited in Medellin prison by SPD members of the Bundestag and they made very favourable remarks about us once they knew what had happened. They also thought that much more should have been done to bring about our release. This was stated publicly. We were attacked at the time because nothing was known about our work. But there is nothing negative. Of course our arrest - which had been engendered by an intrigue - wasn't very nice.............
It also makes you cross as a professional .......
No, it doesn't make me cross. I am only grateful that we survived it at all. But now it is up to the politicians, to Germany, the European Union. We have made our contribution.
You say that nothing could be criticized about your work in Columbia. There are voices which claim that the ELN was financially at an end when you first went there for the Mannesmann company in 1984. Then the "milagro aleman“ arrived, the German miracle .......
The ELN never received protection money from Mannesmann at that time. Our operations were closely coordinated with the Generalstaatsanwalt [Chief Public Prosecutor]. On Mannesmann's behalf we had to explore a territory which was completely new to us, because due to kidnappings and attacks Mannesmann was unable to continue building an oil pipeline. What we noticed at the time, in contrast to our other work, was decisive: we made the decision not to fight the guerrillas but rather to fight poverty. We therefore started a social pilot project. The German Bundeskriminal¬amt [Federal Criminal Police Office] supported us in this. And this commit¬ment led to the fact that after some months we also established contact with the ELN. This social programme increased trust. The story about protection money is nonsense.
The ELN themselves say Mauss does not get a penny from us. How do you earn your money?
We did not benefit at all from our operations in 1995; from the time of our release until the present day we have paid everything out of our own pockets. We have an old age pension, I am also able to retire and live well; for this we have worked efficiently with the security services for many long years.
For two decades you were a kind of phantom, a man 'without a face'. What were your thoughts as you were arrested?
At that moment I first thought it would all be resolved immediately. But when we were then paraded like animals in front of the press only once thing was important to me: I was afraid for my wife and whether we would get out of the situation alive.
In connection with the case of the jeweller Düe, whom you helped to convict, the Hanover Verwaltungsgericht [administrative court] once stated: “The difference between a state governed by the rule of law and a state governed by arbitrary rule is the fact that not even the defence of the legal system justifies (the use of) every available means.” Does that mean something to you?
The way I see it is that 99 percent of my work was to do with organized crime, drugs, arms, gangs. I infiltrated international criminal organizations. What happened in the Düe case was that, after a covert operation, he deposited jewellery (which he had reported as having been stolen), wrapped in towels and packed in a suitcase, at the Hotel Kolumbus in Bremen. This was why Düe was found guilty and sentenced by the court of first instance. The appellate court set aside that judgment, because it considered the covert action by the Landeskriminalamt [State Criminal Investigation Office] to be disproportionate and my work to be an inadmissible interrogation method by the police. The evidence was therefore left out of account. Today this is quite legal. Legislation has changed considerably since then. Today the covert operation would have legal effect. At the time this was criticized. At the beginning of 1966 I was the first undercover agent in Germany. There was no experience with this at all.
You mentioned that you are gradually approaching pension age. Could you imagine that one day you might open a school for agents, that you would pass on your experience?
Yes (laughs), why not. But no offers have yet been received.