Germany's Fischer Can't Escape Past

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer sits on the witness bench in the Frankfurt, Germany, State court in this Jan. 16, 2001 file picture. Prosecutors took the first step Friday, Feb. 16, 2001 toward investigating Fischer for allegedly giving false testimony about past contact with the violent Red Army faction.
Germany's popular foreign minister faces investigation by federal prosecutors after weeks of allegations that he lied when he testified he had no contact with known terrorists as a young radical.

The probe into the minister's well-known militant past centers on his testimony at the Frankfurt trial of a former fellow radical who later turned terrorist. Fischer's courtroom statements, which some claim are false, have prompted opposition calls for his resignation that he has so far brushed off.

From Militant To Minister
Fischer's Career Chronology
  • June 2, 1967: 19-year-old Fischer among students rounded up and beaten by police after rally against Vietnam War.
  • April 15, 1968: School drop-out Fischer now in Frankfurt. At Easter Monday protest against right-wing press, he is beaten by police. Joins unarmed movement, Revolutionary Struggle (RK).
  • May 1968: France deports leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit, "Danny the Red,'' to native Germany. He befriends Fischer.
  • April 7, 1973: Fischer photographed beating up policeman during Frankfurt squatter riot. Hans-Joachim Klein with him.
  • Dec 21, 1975: Klein takes part in kidnapping attack with Carlos the Jackal on OPEC conference in Vienna. Two bodyguards and a delegate killed. Klein shot and wounded but escapes.
  • May 10, 1976: Fischer takes part in subsequent riot where others hurl Molotov cocktails at policemen, badly hurting one.
  • Oct 19, 1977: RAF kill hostage businessman Hanns-Martin Schleyer. Fischer "loses all illusions" and turns away from hard left toward what will become environmentalist Greens party.
  • May 11, 1981: Liberal local politician Heinz Herbert Karry shot dead in Frankfurt by Revolutionary Cells. Fischer later quizzed over allegations murder weapon was once carried in his car. He says Klein used his car in 1970s but knows of no gun.
  • March 1983: Fischer wins Greens seat in Bonn parliament.
  • December 12, 1985: Sworn in, tieless and in tennis shoes, as environment minister for home state of Hesse. Holds position twice until 1994 when quits to concentrate on national politics.
  • Sept 9, 1998: Klein arrested in France where he has been living on run for nearly two decades. Extradited to Germany.
  • Sept 27, 1998: Social Democrats under Gerhard Schroeder win election. Schroeder names Fischer foreign minister and deputy chancellor.
  • pring 1999: Germany joins NATO campaign over Kosovo, first German combat since 1945. Pacifist Greens paint-bomb Fischer.
  • Jan 3, 2001: Old 1973 press photographs published, provided by Meinhof's daughter, who is bitter critic of Fischer. Fischer admits he is police attacker.
  • Jan 16, 2001: Fischer, at Klein's trial, denies having lived with RAF guerrilla Margrit Schiller in 1973.
  • Jan 22, 2001: Fischer quoted by ARD state television saying Schiller may, however, have lived briefly in different apartment in same building and he may even have met her over breakfast.
  • Feb 15, 2001: Klein jailed for nine years.
  • Feb 16, 2001: Frankfurt prosecutor sends parliament statutory notice that he opening investigation for perjury in Klein trial. (Reuters)
  • The Foreign Ministry said Fischer had no intention of leaving his post and in fact welcomed an investigation as a chance to clear his name. The foreign minister was maintaining a busy travel schedule, meeting later Friday with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine in Stuttgart before heading to Washington to meet with the new Bush administration next week.

    "I don't expect the resignation of the minister," spokesman Andreas Michaelis told reporters, adding that Fischer has sought legal counsel although he believes his testimony last month "holds up."

    "We want a preliminary investigation. ... We view this prospect with great calm," he said. "The question that has been out there for weeks can only be cleared up in this way."

    Even prominent conservatives were reserved about using the imminent probe to increase pressure on Fischer to step down. "Let's let the investigation proceed," said the head of the ultraconservative Christian Social Union, Edmund Stoiber. "It can be withdrawn or turn out to be unfounded."

    Parliament President Wolfgang Thierse was notified by prosecutors about the prospect of a criminal investigation Friday, said Helmut Winkelmann, secretary of the parliamentary immunity committee. The probe can be launched within 48 hours if there are no formal objections, but Fischer the most prominent member of the Greens party could not be indicted unless parliament votes to lift his immunity.

    Members of the committee could stop the investigation if they feel it is unfounded or politically motivated, although both Social Democratic and opposition Christian Democratic members of the panel said that was unlikely.

    "As long as Fischer twists and turns like an eel, prosecutors are the qualified authority to ensure it is cleared up," said Laurenz Meyer, secretary-general of the opposition Christian Democrats.

    The last time such procedures were invoked was a year ago for ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the focus of a financial scandal after admitting accepting anonymous donations. Bonn prosecutors reached a deal with Khl earlier this month for him to pay a 300,000 mark ($140,000) fine to end a criminal investigation into breach of trust charges.

    The probe would focus on Fischer's testimony Jan. 16 as a character witness at the murder trial of Hans-Joachim Klein, where he said never encountered members of the violent Red Army Faction during his radical days in the 1970s including Margrit Schiller, who later joined the group.

    But after those statements were challenged in media reports citing anonymous sources, Fischer later said he could not rule out having met Schiller.

    Klein was sentenced Thursday to nine years in prison for his role in a 1975 attack on an OPEC ministers' meeting in which three people were killed. At the trial, Fischer said he had urged Klein not to join a terror organization and distanced himself from those who advocated violence.

    In remarks at Klein's sentencing, Judge Heinrich Gehrke criticized attempts to start an investigation against Fischer for his testimony.

    "I regret that people who speak honestly and seriously about their past, and who have overcome it impressively, are subjected to extreme difficulties because they spoke out," Gehrke said. Prosecutors in Frankfurt weren't expected to make an official statement on the issue until Monday, said spokesman Job Tilmann.

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