Public prosecutor: ”You have to follow the money”

Staatsanwalt Joachim Speiermann Und Polizisten Kleiner

One of the biggest mafia trials in Germany recently took place in Constance, Baden-Württemberg. In an interview, Senior Public Prosecutor Joachim Speiermann explains the story behind it and why the sentence “Mafia? We’re not interested in that” was frequently heard.

Dr. Speiermann, you recently concluded one of the biggest mafia trials in Germany and hardly anyone noticed. How do you feel about it?

Of course, this is also connected with the fact that we live in Coronavirus times. That’s why the last days of the trials were not so heavily attended. After 100 days of hearing, the interest decreases noticeably.

The presiding judge spoke of a “mafia trial that was not a mafia trial” and he also said that he was not interested in whether someone belonged to the mafia, because under German law that was not relevant. Does this mean that German justice is blind to the mafia issue?

I don’t want to say it so directly, but I was a little surprised by that statement myself. The proceedings began thanks to the Drug Enforcement Administration and the American anti-drug agency, that shared some information with the Italian investigators. We were informed of the facts, because some of the people involved lived in our district. In the course of the investigation, we obtained clear evidence that this case had mafia ties. This was also confirmed during the trial by witnesses’ statements. Of course, in Germany, we cannot determine in detail who is a mafia member and who is not, but such a large drug trafficking can only be fully understood if the persons involved are also investigated. And I was somewhat disappointed that this did not happen – one cannot work only on a purely crime-oriented basis. It makes a difference whether there is a Mafia group involved or not. This should have been made clear by the court. What the President said to the chief investigator was revealing: “Please stay on the surface,” said the judge. It seemed that the judge did not want him to give a detailed report to the court. In addition, during the long main hearing the sentence “Mafia, we are not interested in that” was unfortunately repeated several times.

How do you explain this?

This is generally the tendency of courts. It’s easier to stay on the surface. It’s easier to condemn only those who confess and go deeper only if it is really necessary. This trial was not easy at the beginning, with about 20 defenders, attacking on all sides. But I would have liked to see the relations to Italy highlighted. However, the Chamber preferred to judge only drug transactions that had been carried out in Germany and not crimes committed abroad, such as a planned robbery of a jeweller in Verona, which had been prevented by the investigations.

Unfortunately, not a single policeman from Italy was called as a witness, although investigations were being carried out there.

You said that the people behind these drug deals in Italy were from the mafia. Does it make any difference to you, when you have people with such connections in front of you in court?

Sure, it makes a fundamental difference to the sentencing process. Whether it’s a single offender, spontaneous acts or organised crime. If there are references to the Calabrian ‘ndrangheta or the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, then this is a crucial point.

And what about you personally, since they are no good people at all. The mafia organisations have killed many judges and prosecutors just because they were doing their job.

After the group in Germany had difficulties with sales and the money didn’t come in, we heard a telephone conversation during the trial, where they said one should contact the Cupola in Palermo, the highest power centre of the Cosa Nostra.

But you did not think of people like Giovanni Falcone or Paolo Borsellino, who were murdered because of their fight against the Mafia?

No, I didn’t. I’m certainly aware of these acts and I’m impressed. I know how much the Italians respect these colleagues. Colleagues say that those who fight against mafia in Italy work under very different conditions than in our country, even today.

How did you experience the German police? Sometimes one can hear accusations that they do not want to act against the Mafia.

The opposite is true: the team here was probably the key to success. We had a very good police officer, a chief commissioner who was the contact person for Italian organised crime at the Landeskriminalamt (State Criminal Police Office) and who had incredibly good contacts in Italy. We brought him on board, and he established direct contact with investigators in Palermo. Then I met the responsible public prosecutor. That’s the only way the procedure worked. We then agreed on a direct exchange of information between the police forces at an early stage. This saved us the difficult route via Interpol or the police channel. Of course, the use of these informations then proceeded properly within the framework of mutual legal assistance. There were two procedures, so-called mirror procedures: mine in Germany and that of my colleagues in Italy. The respective findings were exchanged on a daily basis and there was always coordination.

 Does this approach also cause problems?

This procedure can already serve as a model. But it is required to have well motivated people in the team. If there are objections from the start, then it doesn’t work. We have a relatively small police headquarters here, the one in Rottweil, but it has already led some fairly large procedures to success. I do not think that there have been similar proceedings, at least not here in Baden-Württemberg. Basically, such procedures should be located at the LKA. After the investigations were completed, the then head of the Rottweil police headquarters presented the work of his team at the Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Police Office) in a lecture. They were surprised, and the message was that they could not do that at the BKA. But the BKA itself and the State Office of Criminal Investigation (apart from this one police officer) were never on board. The investigations later expanded to the Stuttgart area and to customers in Münster. These proceedings have been handed over to Münster, which worked out very well. There we already had some final convictions. The proceedings in Stuttgart were taken over some time ago. As far as I know, no charges have been brought so far.

I have read that a total of six million euros has been seized.

We approach proceedings differently in Germany than in Italy. Of course, we are also trying to seize assets in Germany. We have made requests for bank information and everything else, but unfortunately, we have not been able to identify and seize as many assets. This is also an advantage of a a pro of the German-Italian mirror procedure: the Italians then seized six apartments and lands as a preventive seizure.

What does that mean, preventive seizure?

If the defendant cannot explain where the capital invested comes from or the origin is dubious, not comprehensible, then assets can be seized in Italy. If someone pays hardly any taxes and then owns assets, then the Italians are relatively quick with preventive seizure. The accused must then prove the proper origin. If he cannot do this, the assets can be confiscated. That’s what happened also in this case. The underlying idea is that the capital can then be used for further crimes.

And that is not possible under German law?

Yes, this idea is now beginning to take effect in German law. Even if proceedings are dropped or someone is acquitted, seized assets can be confiscated if you are convinced that they have not been legally acquired. Under Article 76a of the German Criminal Code, this is now possible. It is a question of the assessment of evidence, and we have the instrument for this.

What lessons have you learned from these proceedings?

A positive lesson for me, the team and the police is that joint action also works across borders if the right people are involved and if people are motivated. That was the rewarding thing. The long duration of the proceedings is exhausting; there have now been more than 100 days of proceedings, and that raises the question of whether this is justified in terms of costs alone. In conclusion, though, I have to say that all the eleven defendants have been convicted; that makes me happy. The amount of the penalty is at the discretion of the court and has not fully convinced me. But it was a success.

Are we in Germany well positioned to deal with the problem of transnational organised crime?

First and foremost, we need motivated police officers and motivated public prosecutors. That is the most important thing. If you approach proceedings with reservations, you won’t get far. Sometimes you must be a bit brave, try new approaches, and then it works. I don’t have a precise overview of the number of proceedings, but it makes me think when you see how few proceedings are conducted in this area in Germany. Especially because it is always said that there are several hundred mafiosi in Germany. And in our case, we have not even established that they are mafiosi.

How did you motivate your policewomen and police officers? Can the public prosecutor’s office contribute to this?

Of course. But we’ve also had two or three big cases before. We were just lucky to have very, very motivated officers in Rottweil.

How did you experience the defendants in the trial? As men in black suits and sunglasses like in mafia movies?

No! They were more respectful to me than the defence attorneys. One of the defendants was a bit egocentric, but they were normal defendants, as you see them again and again.

Do you think that this trial will be noticed by the other side? I heard there was a convicted mafioso in the audience.

To what extent there is interest, I can’t judge, I don’t know. But I’m sure they will have an interest in the outcome of the trial.

One can assume that they will have an interest in the outcome of the trial. But this war on drugs is not very effective, we are seeing a flood of cocaine in Europe.

I do not think that drugs legalisation is the right answer, simply for health reasons. One can see, particularly among young people, what consequences even soft drugs such as marijuana can have. In some cases, the drug causes terrible psychoses. But I admit to you that there is a lot of drug on the market, it is a fight against windmills.

How could we make this fight more successful?

You must follow the road the Italians followed till now – you must follow the money. That is not happening enough in Germany.  In 2017 some laws were changed; it remains to be seen whether they will be implemented. The tools are there, but we must also use them. And that involves a lot of work. You need motivated prosecutors and it takes a lot of time. And we in the public prosecutor’s office are also measured by statistics. Such an Organised Crime procedure requires a lot of time and personnel. In my trial, for example, the main trial alone involved 100 meetings with two people from my department. Unfortunately, we did not get any additional personnel for the proceedings.  According to the personnel requirement calculation system (Pebb§y), such a procedure costed us 2000 minutes – although it is of course an average value! Many simple procedures such as shoplifting bring more personnel for a public authority and this may explain the relatively few Organised Crime Procedures.

And now everything is over?

We have appealed against the last two rulings and we are waiting for the written reasons. The chamber now has about 6 months to draw up the reasons for the judgement. We will then examine it in terms of appeal, to see whether there are any errors in the sentencing or the assessment of evidence.

Was there any contact between you and the defendants afterwards?

In part I also received positive feedback where I would not have expected it. A defendant from Calabria said goodbye personally. He thanked me for the fairness and told me that if I should take a holiday there, in Calabria, I should visit the family. Which of course I refused. The defendants were more respectful than the defence attorneys. The defence lawyers were more the problem of the trial, it was one of their strategies to wear down the court, which partly succeeded.

If you are talking about the defence lawyers, there was a defence lawyer whose first sentence in the trial could basically be understood as a threat to the witnesses. To sum up, he said: “Anyone who keeps his mouth shut will live to be 100 years old”.

Of course, this can be understood in this way, although I don’t know whether the lawyer understood what he was saying at all. Perhaps he just wanted to show off. Whether this was really a threat, I must leave open. But the fact was that at first there was an absolute silence.

Did you have the feeling that you had enough knowledge about Italian organised crime?

I have learned a lot in this trial, I must honestly say. It was my first big mafia-related narcotics case. No, I went into it relatively recently and only started to deal with it when I made contacts in Italy and the investigation was about the subject.

Do you see a need for action there, for example in political terms? Should prosecutors be trained?

Yes. Especially because of the cross-border aspect of the work. We are now on the way there with the European Public Prosecutor and there is Eurojust as the European coordination body for investigations. But appropriate training and conferences on the subject would certainly be good, and young colleagues should be sent to them. The JIT procedure (Justice Investigation Team) with investigation teams in two or more European countries is an important tool. We have also had two such proceedings in our office. Legal assistance is sometimes very, very formal and time-consuming, which deters many colleagues. They say ”oh, legal assistance is difficult”.  That is the reason why so many colleagues fear the involvement of foreign countries. The JIT simplifies this.

I have noticed in conversations with Italian public prosecutors, that they know much more about criminal structures. Why is that so?

Basically, it is much easier in Germany to arrest a criminal with 5 kilos of drugs than to go into depth and identify structures. Structural investigations take time and we are judged by how many cases we make. That is why few developments like these are made in Germany.

How often did you travel to Italy for this investigation?

I was in Sicily three times. The hospitality of my colleagues there was personally enriching. And after seeing how the Italian policemen work, under what conditions and for how little money, our German policemen noticed for the first time how well they are treated here. Moreover, we learn from each other: the Italian investigators, for example, look much more closely at the profits of criminal business than we do in Germany. In our proceedings, six million euros were seized, most of it in Italy.

What is the special appeal of investigations in the drugs and mafia sector?

You have very direct contact with the police, which brings you closer together. And it’s exciting, even if you can see what’s going on thanks to telecommunications surveillance measures. That’s just very, very interesting.

Do you still have contact to Italy now?

I’m retiring now; four police officers from Italy wanted to come to my retirement party. But because of Coronavirus it didn’t work out. I’m still in contact and once I’m in Sicily, I’ll certainly visit the colleagues.

Do you still watch mafia movies now?

(laughs) Rarely. I don’t even turn on ”Tatort”. That has little to do with reality.


Dr. Joachim Speiermann was born in Rendsburg (Schleswig-Holstein) and is married. He joined the judiciary in 1986 and was a judge in various courts until 2002: the Local Court, the Grand Criminal Chamber and the Court of Aldermen in Constance and Singen. From 1993 to 1996 he was a deputy judge at the University of Constance. In 2002 he joined the Constance Public Prosecutor’s Office, first as head of a general department and from 2014 as deputy head of the authorities and head of the OC and narcotics department.

This article was published in a shorter version on Cicero Online – Magazin für politische Kultur. The picture shows Dr. Speiermann on the right with the policemen Wolfgang Rahm from LKA Stuttgart and Thomas Flaig and Thomas Hechinger, police department Rottweil.