German faces unusual French trial over slain girl

AP News
Posted: Mar 29, 2011 2:58 PM
German faces unusual French trial over slain girl

A retired German doctor who was kidnapped and left in front of a French courthouse on the orders of a grieving father went on trial in Paris on Tuesday over the killing of a teenage girl 29 years ago.

The unusual trial is the culmination of a decades-long battle between two men, in two countries, now both in their 70s. But it also raises larger questions _ about cross-border justice in the borderless European Union, and whether the father was right to try to take justice into his own hands.

Defense lawyers asked the judge Tuesday to suspend the proceedings and seek a European Court of Justice ruling on whether the trial is valid. A decision on that request was postponed until Wednesday.

Dieter Krombach lived in freedom for years in Germany after his stepdaughter, Kalinka Bamberski, a 15-year-old with wavy blond hair and a shy smile, was found dead in her bed in July 1982 in his home in Germany. The girl and her mother had moved in with Krombach after the girl's parents separated.

The girl's father, Andre Bamberski, believes that Krombach gave his daughter a dangerous injection to make her lose consciousness so he could rape her, leading to her death, Bamberski's lawyers say.

France convicted Krombach in absentia in 1995 of "intentional violence that led to unintentional death" and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. Germany did not extradite him or press charges, saying there was insufficient evidence. Krombach has denied wrongdoing.

In 1997, Krombach was convicted in a German court to a two-year suspended sentence and suspended from medical practice after pleading guilty to drugging and raping a 16-year-old girl in his office.

Then in 2009, Krombach was kidnapped from his German town, tied up, and appeared near the courthouse in the eastern French city of Mulhouse before dawn one morning in 2009.

Andre Bamberski later acknowledged involvement, and was hit with preliminary charges of kidnapping.

Bamberski said he had to act because the statute of limitations was running out and he wanted Krombach to face justice in France.

"Can we take vengeance ourselves?" defense lawyer Yves Levano asked the victim's father in the courtroom. "Dieter Krombach was attacked, beaten, attached to a fence in a state of hypothermia."

Bamberski's lawyer, Laurent de Caunes, told reporters Tuesday that the circumstances under which Krombach arrived in France "are irrelevant. The French judicial system now has him under their wing and it has to judge him."

Krombach's lawyers "are trying to explain that the court doesn't have the ability to try the case and that it should go to another jurisdiction in order to have it judged," De Caunes said. "This court can try the case. It should try the case," the lawyer said.

France's highest court, the Court of Cassation, has ruled that Krombach's detention in France is legal. Lawyers defending the right to try Krombach in France compared the case to that of Nazi Klaus Barbie, known as the "Butcher of Lyon" for his role in the Holocaust, and Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, a Cold War-era mastermind of deadly bombings known as Carlos the Jackal. Both were convicted in France after having been kidnapped or detained abroad.

At Tuesday's trial, defense lawyer Levano insisted that his client "is not Klaus Barbie."

Bamberski made it his life's work to try to bring Krombach to court, hiring lawyers in France and Germany and rallying supporters through an association, Justice for Kalinka.

Krombach was badly beaten during his abduction, suffering head wounds, a broken rib and other injuries, his lawyers have said. Bamberski was handed preliminary charges for kidnapping and willfully causing injuries. That case is still under investigation by French authorities separately from the case of his daughter's death.

Another lawyer for the German doctor, Philippe Ohayon, said, "How is it possible inside a relationship of trust within the EU that from the other side of the Rhine, Mr. Krombach is innocent, and on this side we don't acknowledge German justice and he is accused? This is a situation that is absolutely unacceptable."

Krombach's daughter, Diana Gunther, said: "I hope that tonight this will be the end of this and that my father can come home."

The trial is expected to last through April 8. Other witnesses include German women who have told investigators that they were drugged and abused by Krombach in the 1980s.