On October 5, former German secret agent Werner Mauss — often referred to as the country's very own James Bond — was found guilty on 10 charges of tax evasion, handed a two-year suspended sentence and asked to donate over US$260,000 to charity.
On his website, Mauss claims to have had an illustrious career, repeatedly going deep undercover to investigate criminal agencies the world over.
Operations boasted of include thwarting an attempted poisoning of Pope Benedict XVI by the Mafia; freeing hostages held captive by Colombian rebels; mediating between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas; tracking down treasure stolen from Cologne Cathedral; arresting Red Army Faction terrorist Rolf Pohle in Athens.
Mauss' three-decade-long career in the world of private espionage reaped him a vast fortune, which was concealed in an extensive overseas network, safe from the eyes and hands of tax collectors, until his web of financial intrigue was exposed German daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung" as part of its Panama Papers release.
His series of overseas bank accounts were based in Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and the Bahamas —Mauss claims they were set up by Western and Israeli intelligence officials in the mid-1980s to fund his covert operations around the world but prosecutors did not believe the story, and claimed his version of events was riddled with holes.
The trial has raged for over a year — but while the 77-year-old former spy was accused of hiding US$59 million from tax authorities from 2002 — 2011, prosecutors' requests for six years and three months' imprisonment were rejected, with Judge Markus van den Hovel spoke saying Mauss' "impressive life's work" had been taken into account in his judgement.
Over the course of proceedings, Mauss claimed his 007-esque activity persisted to the present day, carrying out secret, unspecified missions in Iraq, Israel, Myanmar and Thailand, and also battling Daesh (where and how was not specified, however).
Mauss' lawyers have indicated he will appeal the verdict, on the basis judges were unable to access exonerating evidence — one of Mauss' key witnesses, an unnamed Israeli spy, was allegedly thwarted in his attempts to attend the trial.
When The Cat's Away
Born in Essen in 1940, the colorful Mauss discovered a talent for winning over the trust of strangers while working as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. In his 20s, he founded a detective agency which he ran with his first wife, spying on cheating husbands and insurance scammers, before moving on to criminal gangs.
To entrap gangsters, Mauss pretended to be a dealer interested in buying stolen goods, then tip off authorities once thieves had revealed details of their next robbery to him. He claims to have applied this approach to information gathering in every case and field he was involved in subsequently.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Mauss' was undeniably connected with many major criminal cases over the course of the Federal Republic of Germany's existence. Authorities have acknowledged he was involved in the arrests of over 160 diamond smugglers, burglars and drug dealers between June 1970 and May 1971 alone.
In an interview with national newspaper Die Welt in 2000, he said he had seen the James Bond movies, but was unimpressed.
"I never used violence in my work, and never used a gun, nor fists — I preferred to use my head," he was quoted as saying.