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Who Killed Uwe Barschel? A Seven-Year-Old Mystery Haunts Germany

January 6, 1995

BONN, Germany (AP) _ It’s being called one of Germany’s biggest mysteries in half a century, possibly involving the East German secret police, Iranian and Israeli agents, and even the CIA.

Seven years after the files on politician Uwe Barschel’s death were closed with the conclusion that he had probably killed himself, a prosecutor has reopened the case as a murder investigation.

Barschel, a 43-year-old rising star in Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union, was found dead in a bathtub full of water in a Geneva hotel on Oct. 11, 1987. His fully-clothed corpse was laced with sedatives.

A Swiss inquest concluded that he had probably killed himself with an overdose of barbiturates. Barschel had, after all, resigned as governor of Schleswig-Holstein state just 16 days earlier because of his involvement in a smear campaign against a political rival. His widow, Freya, said he had traveled alone to Geneva to meet with a man who supposedly had proof that would clear Barschel of the smear campaign.

But the bottle for the sedatives that killed him was never found. Nor was the man who was to have met with the disgraced politician. And Freya Barschel denied he was suffering from depression.

Now the case has returned to haunt Germany. Last month, Luebeck prosecutor Heinrich Wille reopened the case on the basis of a toxicologist’s conclusion: It was unlikely Barschel was capable of voluntarily taking the fatal dose of cyclobarbital since he had already ingested three other sedatives.

Justus Warburg, the attorney for Barschel’s widow, said he had heard of a new witness who claimed to have seen someone carrying Barschel’s body in the hotel.

News reports say that Barschel, as governor, may have been involved in arms deals with Iran and Israel and that one of those countries may have eliminated him when the transactions went awry, according to one theory.

Barschel’s death came in the midst of the clandestine U.S. effort to funnel arms to Iran via Israel to win the freedom of American hostages in Lebanon. Speculation about an Iran-Contra link came up in recent news reports.

The Berliner Zeitung newspaper said that it had obtained a CIA cable purportedly showing that just before the politician’s death, a U.S. agent met in Geneva with him and counterparts from Israel, Iran, South Africa, North Korea and Lebanon.

The paper said Barschel and the agents had talked about winning the release of Western hostages in Lebanon by supplying Iran with weapons.

CIA spokesman David Christian denied the allegation. ``Any suggestion that the CIA had anything to do with Barschel’s death is flat wrong,″ he said Wednesday from the agency’s headquarters outside Washington.

Christian said that the agency had a photocopy of the purported cable and ``it is most definitely not a CIA document.″

Unnamed sources in the Federal Intelligence Service have told German news media that the document was probably forged by the Stasi, Communist East Germany’s ruthless secret police.

Der Spiegel news magazine, in its Jan. 3 issue, said the Federal Intelligence Service believes the Stasi killed Barschel.

As governor, Barschel was a frequent traveler to East Germany to promote trade with his state and he may have learned about secret weapons’ deals involving the Communist government.

German counter-intelligence on Wednesday rejected Wille’s allegations that it had destroyed documents that could help explain Barschel’s death.

A meeting on Jan. 13 between representatives of Germany’s two spy agencies and Wille could shed light on Barschel’s death _ or leave his fate shrouded in mystery.

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