German spies investigate if Scientologists ‘infiltrated’ major museum

The secret service in Bavaria have been called in to deal with a most unusual case - the suspicion that Scientologists have too much power in one of Munich's most famous state art galleries.

German spies investigate if Scientologists 'infiltrated' major museum
Das Haus der Kunst. Photo: DPA

The remarkable claim that the controversial US religion could have infiltrated the Haus der Kunst, one of the most important art galleries in Munich, was first reported in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) on Wednesday.

At the centre of the controversy is the head of the museum's human resources department, who is responsible for hiring staff and setting salaries.

Despite his position of prominence, the man has technically been working for the museum as a consultant since the mid-1990s – a very unusual state of affairs, according to the SZ.

Isabell Zacharias, the cultural spokesperson for the Social Democrats (SPD) in Bavaria, was the first person to look into rumours that an avowed Scientologist was employed in a leading position at the state museum.

“This is a building with a certain history. It was built by the Nazis in the 1930s and is known around the world for this. And now there is a man in an important position there who belongs to an organization with fascist-like structures,” she told The Local.

Zacharias claims to have information suggesting that there are more employees at the museum who belong to the controversial US church, although these people are not in senior management positions.

“For me this is a no-go,” she said, explaining that “if we were talking about a private organization, I wouldn't care, but this is a state institution which gets big grants every year.”

Germany does not recognize Scientology as a religion, unlike the United States, and tends to view the organization with a high level of scepticism.

Courts have ruled in the past that the group is engaged in activities that are subversive to freedom and democracy and should be subject to closer surveillance.

Scientologists are not banned from working in Bavaria, reports Die Welt. But since 1996, applicants for public sector jobs have to declare their membership of the church. The Haus der Kunst is not part of the public sector, despite receiving public funding.

Bavarian culture minister Ludwig Spaenle, himself chairman of the museum’s board, confirmed to the SZ that the Bavarian intelligence service is now investigating the case.

“We are all very aware how serious this situation is,” Spaenle said.

But for Zacharias, the Bavarian government's reaction has been “a scandal.”

“They have known for 25 years that a leading manager at the museum is a Scientologist.

“Even when there was an official complaint made to the museum board a year and a half ago [by the museum's employee committee], they did nothing,” she said, explaining that the culture minister had “a very Bavarian attitude” of keeping things quiet to protect the museum's reputation.

Zacharias was not able to provide evidence that the man's membership in the Church of Scientology had had an effect on working conditions. But she said that she “assumed” the church's “strong hierarchical structures” – which she compared to those of Nazi Germany – had affected his management style.

“I can say that there has been a very, very bad atmosphere at the museum for months and he has done nothing to improve it.”


German police arrest fugitive twin over Dresden museum heist

German police said Tuesday they have arrested one of two fugitive twin brothers from the so-called Remmo clan wanted over their suspected role in snatching priceless jewels from a museum in the city of Dresden.

German police arrest fugitive twin over Dresden museum heist
Archive photo from April 2019 shows the Jewellery Room of the Green Vault. Photo: DPA

The 21-year-old suspect was detained in Berlin on Monday evening over what local media have dubbed one of the biggest museum heists in modern history, a spokesman for the police in the eastern city of Dresden said.

The twins had eluded German authorities when they carried out raids last month and arrested three members of the Remmo clan, a family of Arab origin notorious for its ties to organised crime.

Police then named them as 21-year-old Abdul Majed Remmo and Mohammed Remmo.

All five suspects are accused of “serious gang robbery and two counts of arson,” Dresden prosecutors said.

Police did not immediately name the arrested twin. His brother remains on the run.

The robbers launched their brazen raid lasting eight minutes on the Green Vault museum in Dresden's Royal Palace on November 25th, 2019.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about the Dresden museum heist

Having caused a partial power cut and broken in through a window, they snatched priceless 18th-century jewellery and other valuables from the collection of the Saxon ruler August the Strong.

Items stolen included a sword whose hilt is encrusted with nine large and 770 smaller diamonds, and a shoulderpiece which contains the famous 49-carat Dresden white diamond, Dresden's Royal Palace said.

The Remmos were previously implicated in another stunning museum robbery in the heart of Berlin in which a 100-kilogramme gold coin was stolen.

Investigators last year targeted the family with the seizure of 77 properties worth a total of €9.3 million, charging that they were purchased with the proceeds of various crimes, including a 2014 bank robbery.

READ ALSO: €1 million gold coin stolen from iconic Berlin museum