Report raises speculation about strange 1987 death of German politician

October 20, 1994|By New York Times News Service

BERLIN -- A tale of international intrigue and the possible murder of one of Germany's most promising young politicians is gripping the country.

When Uwe Barschel was found dead in a Geneva hotel room seven years ago, the authorities quickly closed the case as a suicide.

But Mr. Barschel's family, convinced that he was killed to keep him from revealing what he knew about an illicit trade in weapons, has doggedly pursued the case.

Last week, Swiss toxicologists said new tests showed that Mr. Barschel could not have committed suicide. The newspaper Bild quoted the official who oversees German secret services, Bernd Schmidbauer, as saying, "Barschel may have been murdered after all."

A former Israeli intelligence agent, Victor Ostrovsky, has written a book asserting that Israeli agents killed Mr. Barschel because he knew too much about the arms trade between Israel and Iran. Another theory, that he was murdered by West German agents, was the basis of a feature film in Germany this year.

None of the theories amounts to much more than speculation at this point. But the case holds an unusual grip on the German imagination. Mr. Barschel was a widely known politician who was viewed by some as a future chancellor.

A photo of Mr. Barschel floating dead in his hotel bathtub, clad in suitand tie, has been printed countless times in the German press, often accompanying articles that raise new questions about the case.

The latest of those questions was raised this month when it was learned that Swiss authorities had sent Germany the results of new tests said to show that when Mr. Barschel ingested the drug cocktail that killed him, he was already unconscious. Their report suggested that Mr. Barschel was somehow incapacitated and then fed poison in a way intended to make his death appear a suicide.

The tests, made on samples taken from Mr. Barschel's body at the time of his death, had been requested by relatives. German prosecutors said they would review the new evidence.

Mr. Barschel had a meteoric career, becoming governor of Schleswig-Holstein in 1982 at age 38. But his Christian Democratic Union failed to win a majority in the 1987 election, and Mr. Barschel faced a scandal over charges that he hadused illegal campaign tactics.

L He resigned soon afterward but vowed to prove his innocence.

A few days later, after a family vacation in the Canary Islands, he flew alone to Geneva, where he died.

Family members say that Mr. Barschel had covert contact with several important arms dealers and that he worked closely with the West German secret service. He also reportedly had contacts with the East German secret service and the Israeli service, the Mossad.

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