Germany’s domestic intelligence chief is being replaced following controversial comments in response to far-right activity in Chemnitz which brought accusations that he was not taking the problem seriously.
Hans-Georg Maassen will leave the BfV agency, the government says, to become a senior official at the interior ministry. The move follows a row that has exposed divisions in Chancellor Merkel’s administration.
However, critics point out that it actually amounts to a promotion for Maassen, who will reportedly be on a higher pay grade. The decision appears to be a compromise between Merkel and her right-wing coalition partners.
“Maassen is no longer the top spy. This is good. But it is a farce that he is practically being promoted and that the SPD is going along with this,” said Dietmar Bartsch of the left-wing Die Linke party.
The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) – junior coalition partners of Merkel’s conservatives – had wanted Maassen removed from the position he has held since 2012. But Horst Seehofer, leader of Merkel’s Bavaria allies, had stood behind him.
Earlier on Tuesday a German court released an Iraqi man who had been held over the fatal stabbing of Daniel Hillig, a Cuban-German man. A Syrian man remains in custody and a third suspect is being sought.
The killing prompted far-right protests last month. The violence in Chemnitz was the worst seen in Germany in decades. Reports said migrants were sought out and assaulted in the eastern city in what were called racist “hunts”. Videos showed protesters chasing and attacking people.
The spy chief questioned the events and in particular the authenticity of a video showing far-right radicals hounding migrants – in contrast to Angela Merkel who said the pictures “very clearly revealed hate” which could not be tolerated.
Maassen said it could have been disinformation, although German public broadcaster ARD, which investigated the group which published the video, said there was nothing to show it was fake.
Merkel has been criticised for taking 11 days to act over the intelligence chief, whose comments on September 7 triggered the row.