Economy

German civil servants investigated over ‘spying for Russia’ | Germany

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency is investigating allegations that two senior civil servants working in the economy ministry could have been spying for Russia, according to a local media report.

Die Zeit, which first revealed the case, said the officials being investigated had close involvement with energy supply issues and held key positions.

The economy ministry and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), the country’s domestic intelligence agency, would not comment on the reports. The economy ministry would only say that it was in continual dialogue with the BfV, and that the ministry found itself “under particular focus” due to its work tackling the energy crisis.

Die Zeit said it was aware of the names and pay grades of the officials under suspicion, but it was not at liberty to publish them. The employees have been described as holding a “pro-Russia stance” and are suspected of having sought to obstruct the policies of the economy minister, Robert Habeck, over the past few months.

The newspaper said it was members of the Green party, to which Habeck belongs, who took the complaint to the BfV, possibly directed by Habeck himself.

Habeck was an opponent of the now defunct gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 long before it was abandoned by the German government in protest at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Die Zeit suggested that the officials who would have worked on the pipeline project under Habeck’s predecessor, Peter Altmaier, who referred to it as a “sovereign national energy provision project”, could have struggled to accept the German administration’s U-turn when the scheme was scrapped in February.

Die Zeit reported that internal documents from the ministry relating to Nord Stream 2 appeared to contradict the government’s new stance on it and supported Moscow’s position.

Inconsistencies in communication also related to the level of gas in Germany’s storage facilities, Die Zeit said, referring to a mechanism considered crucial to the country’s ability to get through the winter.

Die Zeit said that according to its contacts, the suspects’ CVs were examined and found to have “biographical peculiarities”, including time spent studying in Russia and proof of “an emotional proximity to Russia”.

It has been pointed out this alone could not be considered condemnatory as it could apply to many German officials, particularly an older generation who grew up in communist East Germany, where learning Russian was obligatory, and those who chose to study the language after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

There is no indication as to what the specific allegation relates to, or whether the officials are accused of having taken money from Moscow or having acted out of a sense of conviction.

Whatever the outcome, it is yet another burden for Habeck at an already difficult time for his ministry as it seeks to manoeuvre its way out of dependency on Russian oil and gas and, more immediately, secure an energy supply for Europe’s largest economy for the winter.

Habeck is considered Germany’s most popular politician, praised for his clear communication in explaining how the government hopes to get the country out of its quagmire. He has even been tipped to become chancellor.

But in the past few days he has drawn criticism over a planned “gas levy” to secure energy supplies that would be financed by consumers and paid to energy companies, even those that have seen their profits soar due to energy inflation. Habeck has acknowledged its flaws and pledged to restructure the fund.

The latest claims risk eroding trust among ministry employees towards Habeck at a time when he needs it most, observers said. Some employees are said to be angry that they are under general suspicion.

Die Zeit’s deputy editor and security expert, Holger Stark, said that if the case were confirmed it would amount to a “fiasco for the German government and a triumph for the Kremlin, which would have succeeded in placing one or even more moles as high up as one of the most important ministries.”

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