Hans-Georg Maaßen was Germany's top spy, in charge of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (a domestic surveillance agency with 3,100 employees and an annual budget of €350m), and he was widely understood to have used his position to aid crypt-fascist, far-right groups like the notorious Alternative For Germany (AfD).
Despite these conflicts of interest, Maaßen was able to cling to power -- until now.
Following a well-documented instance of mob violence against immigrants in the eastern city of Chemnitz, where far-right demonstrators were video-recorded giving Nazi salutes and chanting racist slogans before chasing down and beating people of color, Maaßen publicly questioned the video footage's authenticity, claiming it had been faked to discredit the anti-migrant movements he had allied himself with.
Angela Merkel's German government is an uneasy coalition that includes the Bavarian Christian Social Union, a far-right party that backed Maaßen in his denial of the video. This meant that Maaßen couldn't be fired outright, so he has been transferred laterally to a new job as state secretary in the federal ministry of the interior, a job that comes with higher pay -- but much less direct responsibility.
The news sparked outrage among opposition politicians. The leader of the Green party, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, described the development as “unbelievable” and criticised the coalition for rewarding “disloyal behaviour and cuddling with the AfD”.
The parliamentary leader of the far-left Die Linke, Dietmar Bartsch, said Maaßen’s removal from the BfV was welcome but described his new job as “a farce”.
The row has been viewed in Germany as a reflection of the chancellor’s weakened position with commentators suggesting she would have swiftly shown him the door a few years ago.
Germany's spy agency chief loses job over Chemnitz video claims [Jess Smee/The Guardian]