In NRW, 29 police officers are suspended for exchanging information in right-wing extremist chat groups. Interior Minister Reul speaks of a "disgrace".
Expresses horror at the police affair: NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul Photo: Marcel Kusch/dpa
North Rhine-Westphalia is rocked by a police scandal. Since early Wednesday morning, searches have been underway in several cities against 29 police officers. They are alleged to have shared right-wing extremist content in Whatsapp chat groups. Interior Minister Herbert Reul (CDU) spoke of "the most evil and disgusting neo-Nazi, racist and anti-refugee agitation." The incidents hit the police "to the core". They are "a disgrace for the NRW police".
The Essen police headquarters is particularly affected. 25 of the 29 officers accused come from there. Most of them belonged to the subordinate service group in Mulheim an der Ruhr, which was completely suspended. The head of the service group there is also accused, as well as another from the SEK Essen, one from the LKA, one from the State Office for Training and two from the State Office for Central Police Services.
A total of 34 police stations and private residences were searched, in addition to Essen and Mulheim in Duisburg, Oberhausen and Moers. The officers are said to have exchanged right-wing extremist content in five private chat groups. The first of the groups is said to have been founded as early as 2012, the largest in 2015.
Swastikas and Hitler images
Reul spoke of well over 100 criminally relevant images in the chat groups. Adolf Hitler and swastikas or fictitious depictions of a refugee in a gas chamber or a black person being shot can be seen, he said. The CDU politician spoke of "abhorrent content". Eleven of the officers are now being investigated for disseminating symbols of unconstitutional organizations and incitement of the people. They are said to have posted the pictures in the groups.
The other 18 officers are said to have only received the images. However, disciplinary measures are now also being taken against them on suspicion of violating their duties – because they did not report the content. According to Reul, all 29 police officers have been suspended, they had to hand in their uniforms and service weapons, and are no longer allowed to enter their official buildings. In the case of 14 officers, efforts are being made to remove them from service.
"The process leaves me speechless," Reul said. Right-wing extremists had "no place" in the police. He could no longer speak of individual cases. The majority of the 50,000 police officers in NRW, however, are "highly decent people and democrats."
Only uncovered by chance
The investigators had only come across the chat groups by chance – after searching a 32-year-old officer at the end of August. The police officer was accused of revealing police information to a journalist. The chat groups were then discovered on his cell phone. As a result, a separate group of investigators began their work, the "SoKo Parabel". And the scandal could still expand: Because so far the investigators had access only to the cell phone of the 32-year-old. Since Wednesday, however, far more data carriers are now being evaluated.
Reul announced to work up the affair "in the smallest detail". Already on Wednesday he ordered the formation of a special inspection for the police headquarters Essen. There it is to be examined whether there are further cases and how many officers still knew about the chat groups. In addition, Reul announced a special representative for right-wing extremist tendencies in the state police, who will report directly to him. This group is to draw up a situation report and recommendations for preventive action. There will also be regional conferences with police leaders.
Police union and politicians "shocked
The Essen police chief Frank Richter, whose house is primarily affected, said he had not imagined such a case. There had been no abnormalities, only private devices had been used for the chats. The fact that none of the officers involved had informed their employers was shocking.
The police union in NRW also reacted with "great horror" to the incidents. "Fighting right-wing extremism is part of the DNA of the police," said state vice president Michael Maatz. "That there are nevertheless officers who share radical right-wing, xenophobic content in chat groups is intolerable."
CDU interior expert Christos Katzidis was also "deeply shocked": "That those who should protect and defend our values have instead probably trampled on them is scandalous." SPD state leader Sebastian Hartmann called for "relentless clarification and zero tolerance against the enemies of our democratic society."