A Spy or Kidnap Victim? Two Germanys in Dispute

Times Staff Writer

The East and West German governments wrangled Wednesday over the status of a prominent East German official who was arrested for shoplifting, apparently asked for asylum in the West, then escaped and has taken refuge in his country's diplomatic mission here.

East Germany says that Herbert Meissner, 59, deputy chairman of the East German Academy of Sciences, was kidnaped by the West German secret service, while the Bonn government suspects he is a spy. Late Wednesday, the federal prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe issued a warrant for his arrest.

The row could disrupt relations between the two Germanys, despite the marked improvement in recent months.

The latest tale of Teutonic espionage began late Tuesday when the official East German news agency reported that Meissner was apprehended in West Berlin by government agents and taken to Munich for questioning. The headquarters of the West German foreign intelligence service is in a suburb of Munich.

Worked Against SDI

The East Germans said that Meissner, an economist who helped direct the campaign in East Germany against the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative, managed to escape and make his way to the East German mission here in the West German capital.

And late Wednesday, an East German Foreign Ministry official demanded the immediate and "unharmed" return of Meissner to East Berlin.

In West Germany, however, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office said the East German official was suspected of being an agent for his country's intelligence service.

Evidence of Espionage

And the official government spokesman in Bonn, Friedhelm Ost, told a news conference Wednesday that there is evidence that Meissner had been working for the Ministry of State Security, the East German espionage agency.

West German sources said that the affair began when Meissner was arrested in West Berlin for shoplifting a shower hose on July 9 while on a private visit there. East German officials are among the elite allowed to travel to the West.

The shoplifting charge caused him to ask for asylum in West Germany, sources said, and he was taken to Munich to be interviewed by the intelligence headquarters there.

Allegedly Changed Mind

However, Meissner was said to have changed his mind about defecting and managed to leave Munich for Bonn, where he told East German diplomats that he had been held against his will by the West Germans.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World