January 17, 2014
WASHINGTON — It was a twisted homicide case that spanned the Atlantic, touching both high and low society in the U.S. capital.
And this week, a 49-year-old German con man was convicted for the murder of his 91-year-old wife in Washington. On Tuesday, a jury declared Albrecht Gero Muth, who is 42 years younger than his former spouse, guilty of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances.
Muth, who has always maintained his innocence, had called police to the couple’s row house in the posh Georgetown section of the capital on August 12, 2011 claiming that he had found his wife Viola Drath, a former Handelsblatt newspaper correspondent from Düsseldorf, dead in the bathroom.
The aged woman's body showed head injuries and strangulation marks that clearly were unrelated to a fall, so that from the very beginning, accidental death was all but ruled out.
After four days, Muth was charged with second-degree murder. In March 2012, that was changed to first-degree murder because Drath was considered particularly vulnerable because of her advanced age; and the act thus demonstrated an extraordinary level of malevolence.
Drath had lived with her first husband, an American, from 1947 until his death from cancer in 1981. A year later, she married Muth. From their rundown house on Q Street, the couple conducted an eccentric, highly active social life.
The unlikely pair – the New York Times described their marriage as “the worst in Georgetown” – invited well-known diplomats, politicians, lawyers, and publicists to their home. Anne Patterson, Barack Obama’s ambassador to Egypt, and Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court judge, were reportedly among their guests.
Muth, who was unemployed, liked to appear at their parties wearing the uniform of an Iraqi general, claiming to have served in Saddam Hussein's army. He used to refer to then Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, as "Uncle Kofi," and also claimed to be a count, a member of the German aristocracy.
Muth also entertained his guests with tales of adventure that he said he experienced when he was a spy in South America. He sometimes wore an eye patch, telling family and friends that he had been injured in a coup he helped carry out in Paraguay.
He also claimed to have put a listening device in former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s bathroom on behalf of the German foreign intelligence agency.
Despite her considerable years, Viola Drath was both physically and mentally fit at the time of her death. According to the Washington Post, the former playwright, art lover and expert in German politics continued to nurture “dreams and aspirations.”
There are photographs showing Drath shaking hands with President George H.W. Bush. As a newspaper correspondent, she was no stranger to Capitol Hill and the US Congress – indeed that’s where she met Muth in 1980, where he was working as a junior reporter and was charmed by the mature woman’s wit and intelligence.
However, their marriage was anything but harmonious. Muth, who is believed to be either gay or bisexual, beat his wife, and occasionally left her to go and live with a man.
But he always returned to Drath, who paid him $2,000 a month pocket money. The full beneficiaries of Drath’s will, however, are and have always been her children. One of the defense’s arguments was that Muth had nothing to gain materially from the death of his benefactress.
Muth himself was not present at the trial because he was hospitalized for the hunger strike he has been conducting for weeks. He followed courtroom proceedings by video from his sickbed, surrounded by court officials.
The prosecution claimed that on the day of his wife’s murder Muth had come back drunk from a date with a man that he had gotten to know via Craig’s List. In the ensuing fight, he hit and strangled his wife. At the time of the murder, the couple was alone in the three-story house. There were no signs of break-in anywhere.
These facts along with the fact that Muth had already been violent towards his wife and had a police record persuaded the jury to hand down a guilty verdict.
Muth is likely to be sentenced to life in prison. The death sentence was abolished in Washington D.C. in 1981, a year prior to his marriage with Viola Drath.
Die Welt ("The World") is a German daily founded in Hamburg in 1946, and currently owned by the Axel Springer AG company, Europe's largest publishing house. Now based in Berlin, Die Welt is sold in more than 130 countries. A Sunday edition called Welt am Sonntag has been published since 1948.
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The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
October 21, 2021
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
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Kayhan is a Persian-language, London-based spinoff of the conservative daily of the same name headquartered in Tehran. It was founded in 1984 by Mostafa Mesbahzadeh, the owner of the Iranian paper. Unlike its Tehran sister paper, considered "the most conservative Iranian newspaper," the London-based version is mostly run by exiled journalists and is very critical of the Iranian regime.
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