German Court Releases Man Convicted in neo-Nazi Murder Trial

Prosecutors alleged he was instrumental in supplying the National Socialist Underground group with a handgun and silencer and knew they planned to use it for the killings

Ralf Wohlleben prior to the continuation of his trial at a courtroom in Munich, Germany. July 03, 2018
AFP

A German court has ordered the release of a man convicted last week as an accessory to the murder of nine victims of a neo-Nazi group that targeted immigrants, saying that he had served enough of his sentence to no longer pose a flight risk pending his appeal. 

Ralf Wohlleben was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment at the end of a trial that lasted more than five years. Prosecutors alleged he was instrumental in supplying the National Socialist Underground group with a handgun and silencer and knew they planned to use it for the killings.

Judges ruled that since Wohlleben had already spent six years and eight months in custody while on trial for crimes including helping shelter the murderers, Uwe Boehnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, he could be given conditional release. 

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The order to release Ralf Wohlleben, sentenced to 10 years in prison for procuring the weapon used to commit nine murders, comes a week after Beate Zschaepe, one of the gang's ringleaders, was jailed for life. 

They were both part of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), whose members killed eight Turks, a Greek man and a German policewoman from 2000 to 2007. 

Wohlleben, born in the East German city of Jena in 1975, had a long history of far-right political activity before he fell in with the cell, for whom prosecutors said he was a kind of "guiding spirit" and "mastermind". 

The Munich state court said Wednesday that it has lifted an arrest warrant against Wohlleben, whose sentence has yet to be confirmed but he has already been in custody for six years and eight months so is unlikely to serve much longer. It said prosecutors approved the move.

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"After the court gave Ralf Wohlleben a 10 year sentence last week, he has at most three years and four months still to serve should his conviction be confirmed," Florian Gliwitzky, spokesman for the Munich higher regional court, said in a statement on Wednesday. 

"The remaining sentence is thus no longer enough in this concrete case to make him an exceptional flight risk," it added. 

The murders shook a country that believed it had learned the lessons of its past. A report later said police had "massively underestimated" the risk of far-right violence and that missteps had allowed the cell to go undetected. 

Boehnhart and Mundlos killed themselves in 2011 when police discovered the gang by chance. 

Five of the murders took place in Bavaria, the most violent attacks of their kind in Germany since the far-left Red Army Faction's two-decade killing spree that ended in 1991 and left at least 34 dead.