German newspaper investigates its owner over Stasi past

Holger Friedricg (left), the owner of Berliner Zeitung, has admitted agreeing to work for the Stasi as an informant but claims he was
Holger Friedricg (left), the owner of Berliner Zeitung, has admitted agreeing to work for the Stasi as an informant but claims he was

A German newspaper has opened an investigation after it emerged that its new owner was an informant for the Stasi secret police of communist East Germany.

Berliner Zeitung, a local newspaper in the German capital, was forced to act after rival newspapers published details of Holger Friedrich’s past.

Mr Friedrich, who bought Berliner Zeitung earlier this year together with his wife Silke, has admitted acting as a Stasi informant and pledged his “full support and cooperation” with the investigation.

Communist East Germany was a surveillance state and the Stasi employed a network of 174,000 informants it euphemistically referred to as “unofficial co-workers” or IMs, to spy on their families, friends, neighbours and colleagues.

Documents from the Stasi archive published last week confirm that Mr Friedrich was an IM employed by the Stasi under the codename “Peter Bernstein” to inform on soldiers he worked alongside during his military service.

View of the entrance of the former headquarters of the Stasi (East German communist secret police), in Berlin on October 30, 2019, now housing the secret police's vast archive. - As the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, the secret police began shredding their files. A team of ten people still painstakingly reconstruct surveillance reports, private letters or policy papers that the Stasi had accumulated and desperately tried to destroy as the communist regime came crashing down thirty years ago. (Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP) (Photo by JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images) - Credit:  JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP
The former Stasi headquarters in Berlin now houses the secret police's vast archive identifying informers and those who were spied on Credit: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP

Mr Friedrich has said he was coerced into agreeing to work as an informant after being arrested following a failed attempt to escape to the West.

He says he wrote a letter pledging to work as an informant in order to escape a prison sentence, but insists he was “not active” as an informant and did not cooperate further.

“We will collect the facts, we want to see the files, both of the victims and the perpetrators,” Berliner Zeitung’s editors, Jochen Arntz and Elmar Jehn, pledged in a joint editorial.

Mr Friedrich was seen as a saviour when he and his wife bought the ailing newspaper earlier this year.

Founded in 1945, the centre-Left Berliner Zeitung is one of few East German newspapers to continue publishing after German reunification.

It was partly owned by Robert Maxwell, the British media mogul, for a time following the fall of the Iron Curtain.

More recently it was jointly bought by the British media group Mecom and a US company in 2005, but sold again in 2009 to a Cologne-based publisher.

Mr Friedrich and his wife bought the newspaper in September.

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