Regional politicians in North Rhine-Westphalia fear the consequences of the revelations of the alleged boss of a luxury goods trafficking gang. High-ranking local decision-makers could be affected by fictitious investor models and investments that have disappeared without a trace.

Many NRW regional politicians are currently looking anxiously towards Düsseldorf. Ever since the alleged head of a luxury goods smuggling gang spilled the beans to the state capital’s public prosecutor’s office in May, there has been fear that high-ranking local decision-makers will be drawn into the maelstrom of investigations.

The lawyer Claus B., along with his Cologne law partner Johannes D., is considered to be the head of the gang of people smugglers who are said to have smuggled more than 350 mostly wealthy Chinese people into Germany since 2015 using fictitious investor models or false work papers. The prosecutors are trying to clear up a swamp in which political protection, party donations or bribes are said to have promoted the people smuggling business between Düren, the Rhein-Erft district and Solingen.

As FOCUS online learned, lawyer Claus B. has incriminated various politicians. In 2015, contacts are said to have been made via the heads of a corporate group to the then head of the Solingen immigration authority. According to the public prosecutor’s office, a criminal smuggling model was created in this circle via general partnerships (OHG).

Through the general partnership, the Chinese customers were declared to be alleged managing directors, shareholders and financiers in order to buy their ticket to Germany with a deposit of up to 350,000 euros. The Asian migrants had no say in the companies.

In fact, a Solingen company manager is said to have managed the business of the alleged smuggling companies. A large part of the millions invested, it is suspected, flowed into the pockets of the smuggling bosses.

According to the alleged smuggler boss Claus B., the responsible clerk at the Bergisches Industrie- und Handelskammer (IHK), who was required to give his approval in such cases, had already raised significant legal objections to the business model in 2015. But the then head of the immigration office was determined to push through the project, reported the key witness.

“We can manage it with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, but if necessary we can do it without the Chamber of Commerce and Industry,” the head of the Solingen authority is said to have said. This time the project will come to Solingen, that was his credo. At a meeting, according to lawyer B., the head of the immigration office is said to have brought the recalcitrant Chamber of Commerce and Industry clerk back on track: “But that’s how I want it.” After the reprimand, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry employee gave a neutral statement. Thus the human trafficking company model was launched.

According to the alleged gang boss and lawyer B., several protagonists from the top of the town hall were aware of the questionable general partnership system. They are all on the prosecutor’s list of suspects: among others, the then head of the immigration authorities H. and later his successor, as well as the head of the legal department Jan Welzel (CDU) and mayor Tim Kurzbach (SPD).

The key witness claimed that they had openly discussed the fact that not all of the customers would always be in the country. In this context, the lawyer also quoted the former head of the Solingen immigration office, H.: “Ultimately, I don’t care, we don’t constantly check whether people live there permanently.” It was only important that people did not stay out of the country for six months at a time. In that case, their residence permit would automatically expire. The city did not want to comment on these allegations.

The testimony of the key witness regarding the party donations to the Solingen SPD is extremely explosive. According to him, Lord Mayor Kurzbach is said to have asked the Z. family of entrepreneurs (names changed) for a donation. A five-figure sum was then paid. However, he does not know the exact amount, says smuggler boss B.

In fact, the company’s senior manager had transferred a total of almost 20,000 euros to the Solingen SPD in December 2019 and shortly before the 2020 local election campaign. Ironically, the donor’s son is on the list of accused because he is said to have played a key role in the smuggling business. When asked, both managers did not want to comment on the case.

The statement of the alleged smuggling boss does not match the assurances of Mayor Kurzbach. The chairman of the Diocesan Council of Catholics in the Cologne Archdiocese and SPD state executive board claims to have only recently learned of the donations at the time. Did Kurzbach lie? When asked, the mayor did not comment on the incriminating statement.

The fact is that the mayor confirmed a FOCUS online report on the affair just last Thursday. According to this, the human trafficking investigators are now listing Kurzbach as a suspect. “I have assured the public prosecutor of my full cooperation and will do everything possible to dispel the allegations that I am now aware of,” he said in his press release.

The current situation for him is that “a single accused person has accused me, together with other people, in a rather general way, especially as an alleged accomplice. Since it is clear to me that this does not correspond to the facts, I am relaxed about the investigations that will now follow.”

Furthermore, the mayor has requested the District President in Düsseldorf to initiate disciplinary proceedings “against myself in order to exonerate me from the suspicion of misconduct.”

Welzel, the co-accused head of the legal and immigration department, stressed that no illegal settlement permit had been issued. “I believe that the work of the Solingen immigration authorities is correct from an administrative law perspective. However, as an official, I expect that I will now also be granted the criminal procedural rights of an accused person and that any alleged criminal offenses will be held against me in a legal manner and proven.” The presumption of innocence applies to all accused persons.

Meanwhile, the local SPD is wandering around the political arena. In a recent press release, the council group leader pays great respect to her party colleague Kurzbach for his public confession. In doing so, he put an end to the “rumors and speculation” in the FOCUS online article. The mayor had only confirmed the content of the article about his status as an accused.

A spokesman for the state SPD, however, demands that “all allegations in the context of the so-called human trafficking scandal must be clarified by the local actors. We expect the full support of the investigative authorities from all those involved, also in order to prevent damage to democracy.”

The CDU council opposition, however, senses a new dawn. The fact that Kurzbach’s actions are now the subject of investigations by the public prosecutor’s office is cause for concern. “Confidence in the mayor’s conduct of office is further damaged by the fact that he is apparently using a salami tactic and only admits to what he can no longer deny,” explains CDU council member and press spokesman Rafael Sarlak. “In addition, he wants to shift responsibility onto others. That is shabby.”