German justice minister sacks top prosecutor over treason row

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 04, 2015 1:44 PM

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's government sacked the top public prosecutor on Tuesday after he accused the justice ministry of interfering in a widely criticized treason investigation against a news website.

In a rare clash between the state and judiciary, Justice Minister Heiko Maas said he no longer trusted Federal Prosecutor Harald Range.

"Therefore I decided in agreement with the chancellery that I will ask the president to retire him," Maas told a news conference in Berlin. He said he would name Munich's chief public prosecutor, Peter Frank, as Range's successor.

Range last week suspended an investigation into netzpolitik.org while he awaited an independent expert opinion on whether articles the website had published about plans to step up state surveillance of online communications amounted to revealing state secrets.

Earlier on Tuesday, Range told reporters that the justice ministry had told him to call off that assessment after a preliminary independent legal evaluation had found that a document published on April 15 did constitute a state secret.

Range did not go into details on why the government wanted the investigation stopped. But Maas last week said it was important to defend the independence of the press, adding he doubted whether the publication of the documents would endanger Germany.

A spokeswoman for Angela Merkel said on Monday that Maas had the chancellor's full support. The interior ministry also said it had doubts about the accusation of treason.

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)