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On the streets of Kempten
On the streets of Kempten
Per Hinrichs

KEMPTEN — Perhaps it’s a rather tired comparison, but the Allgäu region in the southern German state of Swabia is well known for its snow. This past weekend it was piled several feet deep on the Nebelhorn mountain. Eight ski lifts were in operation, with winter vacationers on every run.

A few miles to the north, in the town of Kempten, there was uproar over a different kind of white powder. Drug dealing is rife in the area, from marijuana to heroin, but mostly cocaine – Colombian snow. And sometimes it turns up where it is least expected.

Last week investigators from the Kempten police force discovered a considerable stash in the possession of their trusted colleague, Armin N., the leader of the anti-drug squad. Since the shocking discovery, the small town has been rife with the kind of rumors normally reserved for cities like Frankfurt or Berlin: accusations about police corruption and the Italian mafia organization ’Ndrangheta, and questions about how far the reach of organized crime truly extends.

It all began the night of February 16, when police officers in Kempten were sent out on an emergency call at around 2.30 am. Neighbors had called the police and paramedics after hearing a disturbance at the home of Armin N. and suspecting that he was abusing his wife. It wasn’t the family’s first run-in with the police: a few years ago the officer came under suspicion of domestic violence, but there was no investigation pursued.

This time his wife was so badly injured that she had to undergo surgery on her back. She is currently being treated at a secure location and does not wish to speak publicly about her ordeal.

“She wants to concentrate on her recovery now,” said her lawyer, Nicolas Frühsorger.

A huge stash

It was certainly not a simple operation for the police officers who were called to their colleague’s home after the violent episode. According to information from the local daily Südwestpresse, they suspected Armin N. of being under the influence of drugs.

A subsequent search of his office at the police station revealed 1.6 kilograms of cocaine, a stash that would fetch around 250,000 euros on the street. The sheer size of the discovery is even more shocking when you consider that in the whole of 2012, only 366 grams of cocaine were seized at the police headquarters.

“This is a catastrophe for us, an absolute disaster,” police president Hans-Jürgen Memel was quoted as saying by the Augsburger Allgemeine. Other than the one “family dispute” a few years ago, there were no warning signs. The police still do not know whether the cocaine was taken from the police exhibit room, stashed away during searches or obtained directly from a dealer.

The Kempten police force may well be the last to know, as a specialist team of 13 investigators were called in from Munich to conduct the investigation into Armin N.

Links to Calabrian mob

A quick glance through the local papers in the Allgäu region, however, might already offer an insight into where the stash may have come from. For years the region has been a popular holiday destination for members of the ’Ndrangheta, the organized crime syndicate in the southwestern Italian region of Calabria. The organization is known to run Europe’s leading cocaine network, with around 7,000 members in Italy and a turnover of roughly 44 billion euros – 3% of the Italian GDP.

The ’Ndrangheta’s links to this swath of Germany have been known to the police for some time. In 1998, hired killer Giorgio Basile was arrested at the Kempten train station, accused of carrying out 30 murders for the organization. Basile broke the omerta, the law of silence that governs all organized crime, and shared with police valuable information about the ’Ndrangheta. In 2010 they raided the Vulcano pizzeria in Sonthofen, which they claim the organization was using as a base for dealing cocaine.

Internal struggles

However, the German police are not only struggling against a powerful foreign foe; they are also fighting amongst themselves. The Augsburger Allgemeine reports that there has been an ongoing rivalry between drugs investigators from Armin N.’s squad and an organized crime unit in Neu-Ulm.

The leader of the Neu-Ulm unit has a reputation as an exceptional crime fighter, a hard-nosed investigator highly respected by his team. Various newspapers have reported that he took a young Turkish-German officer under his wing and promoted him, sending him in undercover to infiltrate the dealers and gang bosses in Allgäu. This is a very complex and dangerous task entrusted to only a few handpicked men and women in the police force.

However, in March the operation was suddenly called off, and it was announced that the state was taking action against an officer for allegedly “revealing police secrets.” The officer in question was the undercover investigator, who – according to the Augsburger Allgemeine – was accused of having an affair with the ex-girlfriend of one of the gang leaders.

He was sentenced to four years in prison, but the girlfriend was never involved in the trial. His boss was also fired due to “faulty leadership.” In August 2013, the public prosecutor’s office finally closed the case, but the disciplinary process against the officer is still ongoing.

In the precincts and police stations, the feeling is that the two policemen were shown the door because they had come close to uncovering traitors in their midst. Is it possible that Armin N. spread information and rumors in order to get rid of a pesky officer who was onto his illicit activities?

One officer from the organized crime squad told the Augsburger Allgemeine that he still remembers the response from Kempten when they offered to cooperate on drugs investigations: “Don’t get involved, we have everything under control.”

Now the investigators in Munich must follow up on these leads. The question that remains to be answered is whether Armin N. will cooperate. He is currently sitting in a prison cell in Stadelheim and will have plenty of time to reflect on the line dividing the good guys from the bad guys.

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