This article is based upon the information that was available at the time of going to press.
On the 20th of May 1998, in Colombia, Herr and Frau Mauss were acquitted of all charges against them.
After an 18-month investigation by the Fiscal General de la Nación and the Procurador General – public prosecutor for, amongst other things, state and authority criminality, it was ruled that the couple had, at no time during their operations or stays in the country since 1984, violated any Colombian national laws.
It was further ruled that the imprisonment and nine-month pre-trial detention that began in November of 1996 had been illegal. It was established that this had been based upon the intrigues of the company Control Risks with the cooperation of the Columbian police authority – Gaula Medellin – which had manipulated prisoners, forcing them into making false statements against the couple. This falsified evidence was later rectified and declared illegal. Extract from acquittal judgement. [Link]
Between 1995 and their arrest in 1996, the couple were involved in a peace mission which was carried out in consultation with the German Chancellor’s Office.
The Federal Government confirmed this in a governmental declaration at the beginning of 1997 which was presented, along with a verbal note (Nota No.:022/97) via the German ambassador in Bogotá, to the Colombian government, the Fiscal General de la Nación and the General State Prosecutor of Antioquia, on the 23rd of January 1997.
See also letter, dated May 22 2001, to a Western government, written by the then Minister of State in the Chancellor’s Office and coordinator of the German intelligence services, Herr Bernd Schmidbauer, MdB [Link]
as well as:
the letter of appreciation, dated November 22 2005, sent to Werner Mauss by former Colombian President Ernesto Samper, who was in office at the time in question. [Link]
Interview with Werner Mauss, Die Zeit, 14th May 1998
The Agent Who Went into the Warm
Proceedings against Werner Mauss in Colombia are to be suspended. He has decided to remain in the country for the time being, however. An encounter with a man used to living life on the edge. The voice at the other end of the line sounds nervous. He makes clear that if he is going to agree to an interview, this will be only under one condition – no one is to find out his whereabouts. One false word, and we are dead. He has so far even avoided giving his name on the telephone, though he has plenty of them to choose from – Schroeder, Faber, Fischer, Koch Tigel, Bäcker.
He introduces himself, however, simply with the words, “I expect you know who you are talking to”. Eventually, he gets down to details. The meeting is to take place one week later at a hotel in the Colombian capital.
And he actually does turn up. Six hours late, but he does turn up. The young woman at the reception announces: “Señor and Señora Seidel are waiting for you in the lobby.” Anyone who gets close to Werner Mauss and his Italian wife enters a world of conspiracy and allusion. An important meeting had held them up he says by way of excuse for the late arrival. He just had to get a couple of things sorted out and, “then, in a few days, we’ll have things done”. Ida Mauss smiles.
The happy end to their Colombian adventure was something that took its time in coming. When they were arrested on the 16th of November 1996 at the Rionegro airport in Medellin, Werner Mauss thought it would all be quickly sorted out. He was in possession of appropriate identification papers, a letter of safe conduct from the German embassy and had contacts in the highest government offices. The police, however, were not to be put off, after all Mauss was about to leave the country with one Brigitte Schoene, wife of a former BASF executive, who just happened to have been kidnapped three months earlier. Far from being the woman’s rescuer, he was now accused of being just the opposite – her kidnapper. Werner and Ida Mauss found themselves caught up in a tangled web of domestic political intrigue. The following day was one of the blackest of their lives. They were paraded before the press. In that moment the long carefully guarded secret of their identities was lost.
The secret of his real identity was always Werner Mauss’s capital. Only by preserving this secret could the former agronomist work his way up to a career as private special agent via a series of changing identity roles. Under the direction of the Federal Criminal Police Office and financed by insurance companies he infiltrated criminal gangs. Even the most reticent of criminals could be made to talk when Mauss was on the job, with around two thousand of them talking their way into prison, according to his own statistics.
Although there were insistent allegations which surfaced during various court cases and in a commission of enquiry, that Mauss’s successes as undercover man were due to his operating on the borderline between legality and illegality, he was let alone. After all, the man could crack the kind of cases that reduced the ponderous apparatus of regular policedom to desperation. He flew his own plane around the world in pursuit of criminals, tracked down terrorists (“I lived with them and accompanied them up to their arrests”) and the Seveso toxic chemical barrels. Business was good, so long as anonymity could be preserved. Behind the steely silence, however, was a growing need to communicate, a mass of stories waiting to be told.
Only now, in distant Colombia, does he speak in detail over the early operations. He was, for example, mildly amused by the attempts to link him with the death of Uwe Barschel in 1987. “That was just nonsense. We were staying in Geneva at the time because we were involved in negotiations with Hisbollah on the release of the two German hostages in Lebanon, Schmidt and Cordes. We had also booked into the “Beau Rivage” hotel on the same day as Barschel. But after the Hisbollah people picked us up at the airport we were taken to the “Richmond”, not far from “Beau Rivage”. We even had our children and their nanny flown in on our charter plane. None of this had anything to do with Barschel’s death. We wanted to get hostages released.”
Mauss and his wife had already gained some experience in the freeing of hostages in 1984 in Colombia, a country where around 30,000 people a year meet a violent death and between 1000 and 2000 are kidnapped. A country also that boasts a wealth of mineral resources while large sections of the population live barely at subsistence level.
The government has long since lost control. Particularly in rural areas it is guerrilla groups who have the say.
Mauss’s first Colombian assignment came from the Mannesmann company, which was involved in the building of a 250-kilometre long oil pipeline straight through territory held by ELN guerrillas. The project had suffered enormously because of kidnapping and sabotage.
Werner and Ida Mauss soon noticed that the normal methods of criminology were not what were required here. They approached the problem from a different angle: “We decided that it was the poverty rather than the guerrillas that needed to be combated.” With sponsoring from Mannesmann and aid organisations, hospitals and kindergartens were constructed in the region. In December of 1984, Werner and Ida Mauss even dressed themselves up in Santa Claus outfits and handed out small gifts.
Bigger gifts, to the tune of over two million dollars were distributed among the priests and mayors in the crisis region – and since most of these were members of the ELN, the guerrilla group benefited. However Mauss and Mauss’s gestures did not only win them friends. In the capital, Bogotá, they found themselves accused on giving sustenance to a group that had until then been insignificant.
The ELN contact was to pay off for Mauss ten years later when he was given the task of freeing a kidnapped Mannesmann employee – the Austrian, Lee Ruttnik. We drove into the jungle and called out the agreed code over a church loudspeaker: “Laura wants you to call her back.” We were picked up two days later. As with his first assignment, Mauss again chose the indirect approach. This time smuggling the entire ELN command off on a kind of educational holiday to Germany and bringing them together with chancellery minister Bernd Schmidbauer in Bonn. The guerrillas handed over a petition requesting the German government to act as mediators in the civil war in Colombia.
It was a mighty chunk of responsibility that the agents had bitten off. Not only had they undertaken to get the guerrillas out of the jungle to Germany, they were also to get them safely back again. In Mauss’s words: “The whole thing was like a suicide mission. There were military checkpoints everywhere. Fighting was going on between paramilitaries and guerrillas. One of the vehicles in our convoy drove over a mine and was blown to pieces. One night we took refuge in a church. Shooting was going on on all sides. Thank God the guerrillas were able to free us.” After this incident the couple added a couple of new aliases to their collection – “Diana” and “John”. The couple apparently reminded the guerrilleros of film hero Indiana Jones and his female companion.
The journey to Europe and the close contact evidently left their mark on both sides. For Ida Mauss, the ELN leaders were “no Leninists, they just want peace.” While for Werner Mauss it was clear: “If we had grown up with this poverty and violence we would have become guerilleros too.” Indeed, Mauss feels himself so drawn to the romantic side of the guerrillas that he wants to publish the poems of ELN leader Antonio Garcia in Germany.
When Diana and John set off for the jungle again in 1995 to hold further talks with the ELN, they took a team of journalists from Der Spiegel and Spiegel TV with them. A journey by propeller-driven aircraft and speedboat brought them to the war zone. Everything went to plan and two Italian hostages were returned to freedom. However the production may be about to see a legal sequel played out in court. Before setting out, Mauss had taken contractual precautions against the risk of having his participation in the adventure revealed. Following the couple’s arrest and the subsequent media circus however, Spiegel and Spiegel TV no longer felt bound by the agreement and published images of Mauss. According to Spiegel legal adviser Dietrich Krause, the basis for the contract was no longer valid, and as such “the lid could not be kept on the story.”
Mauss’s lawyer is now demanding payment of a DM 500,000 contract penalty. In any case for the past one-and-a-half years Werner and Ida Mauss have spent more time talking to various lawyers and authorities than to guerrilleros. Their problems began in November 1996, when they were assigned to the Brigitte Schoene case. The kidnapping of the German from her house in Medellin was to have far-reaching consequences because it was threatening to disrupt the timetable for the planned peace talks. At an unofficial get-together in New York, the Colombian president Ernesto Samper met with German chancellery minister Schmidbauer and Mauss to fix a date for the beginning of negotiations. It was to be December 16th.
Schmidbauer: The condition for our mediation was that the rebels should be holding no European hostages. We had to move quickly, and it was in many ways an odd situation. The British security firm Control Risks was already involved in the Schoene case. According to Ida Mauss: “Control Risks had to free the woman. If we did it they wouldn’t get any money.”
“A dog that was used for testing the food was poisoned”
Diana and John made good use of their relationship to the ELN to bring about the hostage’s release on the 16th of November. When the agents arrived at Rionegro airport they found a special Colombian police anti-kidnapping squad waiting for them. The couple were arrested while the bewildered Brigitte Schoene was taken to a hotel where a manager from Control Risks was already waiting. Control Risks was unwilling to make any comment on these circumstances to DIE ZEIT. The situation could hardly have been any worse for Werner and Ida Mauss. The peace talks they had helped to prepare did not take place. For months they were forced to defend themselves against allegations that they had been involved in the kidnapping of Brigitte Schoene. Ida Mauss was locked away in a tiny cell. “Sometimes I felt it would be better to die.” “The guerilleros prayed for her. Ida is revered in the jungle like Eva Peron”, says Werner Mauss.
Things were a little better for him, at least there was a pay phone on the wall of his cell. Nevertheless, he believed that he was surrounded by enemies in prison too. “They tried to kill me. A dog that was used for testing the food was poisoned”.
Ida and Werner Mauss’s three children also suffered under the consequences of their parents’ Colombian adventure. Though their father believes that “The children learned to cope with our arrest, even the six-year-old.”
Werner and Ida Mauss were released in July, though they are not allowed to leave Colombia. The most serious charge may have been dropped and the imprisonment subsequently declared illegal, but in Bogotá the allegation that the agents may have broken the law by not informing the Colombian authorities of the attempted rescue is being examined. It’s an allegation that is not to be taken lightly in a country where the kidnapping industry has an annual turnover of around 500 million dollars. Even if proceedings are to be suspended as the public prosecutor’s office in Bogotá has announced, Ida and Werner Mauss want to stay on in the country, “to mediate peace talks”.
Whatever happens, the events in Colombia will have long-term consequences for Werner Mauss. The agent who managed to keep his appearance a secret for decades has now had his cover blown. Since a surgical change in his physiognomy is not something he wants to consider he will have to prepare himself for an increase in public interest on his return to Germany. And this is hardly likely to be as friendly as it is in Colombia, where Mauss and Mauss have achieved media-star status. Car drivers honk and wave at the couple they recognise from the television and magazines as we take a walk together in Bogotá.
“We could have ourselves nominated as presidential candidates tomorrow”, Mauss jokes with unmistakeable pride in his new-found celebrity.
But it is not only Mauss’s personal situation that has changed. His political reference points too are in flux, the system he was part of and in which he could move almost at will, is changing. A presidential election will be held at the end of May in Colombia, and in a few months a new Bundestag will be elected in Germany. It seems likely that the agent will have to find new friends for himself soon. “No problem”, he says, “I have plenty of good contacts.” That of all people it should be a candidate from Lower Saxony who is looking likely to become Chancellor is something that irks him a little. It was in Lower Saxony that Mauss once had to face an investigative committee because of the René Düe jewellery theft affair. Nevertheless, with an eye perhaps to the future, he speaks respectfully of Gerhard Schroeder.
Even if an SPD (Social Democratic Party) led government should fail to give them the backing they want, Diana and John are determined to resume their peace mission, if necessary in cooperation with another European government. “We hold the key to peace in our hands.”
But does the key fit? At the present time two more German hostages are being held in Colombia.