Münchner Abendzeitung 06.12.2000
“With the Chancellor’s Backing”
By Peter Issig
His name is Mauss, Werner Mauss, the most controversial of German detectives. AZ editor Peter Issig met him – secretly, of course.
Secret agent Werner Mauss is a legend. He is the German version of James Bond; a little older than Pierce Brosnan, not as elegant as Sean Connery, but much more controversial and always on secret service.
The man who, according to his own statistics, helped to bring about the arrests of over 1600 criminals and oversaw the freeing of more than 100 hostages, but who also occupied the attentions of a parliamentary committee of enquiry that made life uncomfortable for a number of politicians and police officials, knows how to live up to his reputation. Our meeting is arranged 007style. After weeks of planning, suddenly it’s on: “Be in the lobby of Hotel X in Frankfurt, tomorrow at 14.00 hours. We’ll arrange a meeting place by telephone from there.”
He brings no bodyguards. “I have never done that. I work with my head, not my fists”, he says. Self-confidence is not something he is lacking in. He has a remarkable career behind him, after all. The trained agronomist worked himself up to expert in crime, via jobs as waiter and vacuum-cleaner salesman. And somewhere along the line he had the idea of becoming a detective. Private lessons at police college followed.
His first big job was a divorce case, which he was able to settle quickly and discreetly. Word soon spread. Two years later Mauss had offices in London and Locarno. He enjoyed the trappings of a successful lifestyle. He drove fast cars and soon was able to add a private Cessna plane to his collection. “I had a total of 3,700 flying hours in pursuit of criminals – without a co-pilot.” At the same time he has always set store by self-discipline: “I have never smoked, nor drunk, nor womanised – and my efficiency is also a form of discipline.
He had, apparently, several advantages over the regular police investigators. He was able, seemingly effortlessly, to infiltrate international criminal organisations. “I adapted myself to my surroundings, like a chameleon.” Only once did he use a weapon. It was in 1968 at the Langwieder See (lake) near Munich, as he tried to stop infamous jail breaker Alfred Derks. “Derks tried to run down a police investigator from Cologne in his car. In an emergency situation, and at the request of a police officer, I fired my .38 Special revolver through the rear window of his car. I hit Derks in the shoulder and so managed to save the life of the policeman he was trying to run over.” Derks was able to escape on that occasion, but two years later Mauss got his man. Even back then – long before the later bugging controversy – the monitoring of private calls was one of his favoured methods.
Nowadays things have quietened down considerably for the 60-year-old Mauss. Even today the authorities maintain a steely silence in all things Mauss. He lives comfortably enough on his property in Hesse on a pension awarded to him “for his services to prevention of terrorism”.
But his days as the Federal Police Office’s “secret weapon” (ex BKA chief Horst Herold) in the fight against organised crime are long past. Nevertheless, Mauss is still believed to be highly capable.
“Stern” apology to Mauss
When Philippine kidnappers grabbed the German Wallert family on the island of Jolo, it was to Mauss that SPD parliamentary group leaders turned to free them. “I had already brought the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf rebels to Germany, but Berlin had already decided to go with Libyan help.” However the foreign ministry was not overly enthusiastic. It claimed that Mauss had made everything more complicated, “Stern” magazine reported this, though it had to apologise to Mauss later.
Mauss knows that he has many enemies and many who are jealous of him. Amongst other things, this is down to his close contact to Helmut Kohl’s controversial chancellery minister, “008” Werner Schmidbauer, and because he had little understanding for critics’ reservations about the legality of his methods within a constitutional state. “I was not operating outside the law.” I operated on the borders, but never outside the law.
My activities were carried out under the authority of and were covered by the public prosecutor’s office.” Much of what went on at the time took place in obscurely defined areas of the law; Mauss initiated “confidence-building measures” in other words, money was being used in order to get at the men in control of the criminal gangs. “Thanks to my years of pioneer work, the rights of undercover agents in Germany are now clearly defined and secured by law,“ says the agent in his own defence.
He still gets a kick from playing the game of cat and mouse. Just as he created legends, so he senses intrigue and plotting everywhere. “I try to ensure, as much as possible, that I remain unrecognised. I am on the death list of several terrorist organisations.”
Mauss moved his main theatre of operations to South America in the mid-1980’s, firstly as an employee of the Mannesmann company, and later of the German government. He won the trust of Mannesmann after saving them from substantial image loss. Mannesmann were supposed to take charge of disposing of toxic barrels from the Seveso chemical plant. However 41 of the barrels containing the deadly poison had disappeared. “As a civilian operative working for the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), led by Interior Minister Friedrich Zimmermann, Mauss passed himself off as a waste smuggler and worked his way into the scene.
“The details of my method are a secret, but the basic pattern is always the same. I get myself into the organisations, and then select a couple of individuals. They have no idea that they are working for me, but they are the weakest links in the chain. At some point it is they who provide me with the opportunity to act.”
It was using this method that allowed Mauss to track down the Seveso barrels shortly before they could be tipped into the Atlantic.
South America changed Mauss
In the civil war in South America too, Mauss, who always worked with his 21-year-younger wife Ida, soon found that he had the trust and confidence of all sides. “We know them all; the good, the not so good, and the very bad.”
But South America changed him. With the backing of the Chancellor’s Office Mauss switched to the diplomatic arena. With the help of the German Bishops’ Conference and the German Government a meeting with the leaders of the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN) was arranged for Mainz in December of 1996. Mauss prepared the ground for peace negotiations, which were to go ahead only after the release of 11 Western hostages. However, he and Ida found themselves arrested and paraded before the press. Now everybody knew what he looked like – his agent career was over.
After nine months imprisonment, the Colombian Supreme Court in Medellin acquitted the couple of all charges. Finally, in 1998, after the dramatic delay, negotiations were reopened at the Himmelspforten monastery near Würzburg. Guerrilleros, Church and government sat down at the same table for the first time.
The turning point of his career, Mauss believes, did not come during one of the many murder or terrorist cases he was involved in, but with another equally spectacular case. In Hanover in 1981, jewellery to the value of 13.6 million Deutschmarks was reputedly stolen in a raid on the business premises of the jeweller Rene Düe. The question was, was it insurance fraud? Working for the police, Mauss lured the jeweller into a trap. Working his “System Mauss”, he pretended to represent an international gang of fences interested in buying the stolen diamonds. Using the code name “Claude” he flew to Sydney, and even to New York just for a telephone call.
The effort paid off. Düe was caught. He was found guilty at the first trial, then acquitted on appeal after the court found the investigative methods used to have been inappropriate. Material gathered by the police by means of bugging was not admitted as evidence. The controversy surrounding the Mauss methods smoothed the Lower Saxony SPD’s rise to power after a committee of enquiry brought the police methods used under the CDU government into disrepute.
Mauss himself believes he was the victim of the scheming of jealous rivals, politicians and journalists. Particularly as at that time a blurred picture of him also began doing the rounds, endangering his undercover work. Only since the discovery of some of the reputedly stolen jewellery in Düe’s father’s shop in the spring of 2000 has Mauss been able to feel that his reputation has been restored. “The result of our investigations has been proved correct. But: “Had the Düe case – which was one of the most insignificant of my career - never happened, my work in collaboration with the German government would now be easier.”
Where does Mauss go from here? He wants to get involved in the complex peace process in Colombia once more and bring people back to the negotiating table. And, with that in mind, he is now also attempting “to win the confidence of Chancellor Schroeder”.
His Greatest Cases and Exploits:
1976: Mauss tracks down the stolen Cologne cathedral treasures in Belgrade.
1976: In Athens, kiosks selling the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (daily newspaper) are put under surveillance. When RAF terrorist Rolf Pohle turns up as usual to buy his paper, he is arrested – the beginning of a new kind of systematic investigation method.
1987: A committee of enquiry summons Mauss over a bomb hole in the prison at Celle. He does not turn up.
1987: Minister-President of Schleswig-Holstein Uwe Barschel dies in Geneva while Mauss is also in the city. Suspicions of there having been contact between them are not corroborated.
1992: Lebanon hostages Kemptner und Strübing are released. Mauss says he established the contacts.
1996: Mauss is suspected of supporting the guerrillas in Colombia.
1998: He is acquitted.