La señora Mauss - Cambio
Article by Andrea Varela and Jesus Ortiz Nieves appeared on 04.08.1997 in Cambio 16
This article is based upon the information that was available at the time of going to press.
On the 20th of May 1998, in Colombia, Herr and Frau Mauss were acquitted of all charges against them.
After an 18-month investigation by the Fiscal General de la Nación and the Procurador General – public prosecutor for, amongst other things, state and authority criminality, it was ruled that the couple had, at no time during their operations or stays in the country since 1984, violated any Colombian national laws.
It was further ruled that the imprisonment and nine-month pre-trial detention that began in November of 1996 had been illegal. It was established that this had been based upon the intrigues of the company Control Risks with the cooperation of the Columbian police authority – Gaula Medellin – which had manipulated prisoners, forcing them into making false statements against the couple. This falsified evidence was later rectified and declared illegal. Extract from acquittal judgement. [Link]
Between 1995 and their arrest in 1996, the couple were involved in a peace mission which was carried out in consultation with the German Chancellor’s Office.
The Federal Government confirmed this in a governmental declaration at the beginning of 1997 which was presented, along with a verbal note (Nota No.:022/97) via the German ambassador in Bogotá, to the Colombian government, the Fiscal General de la Nación and the General State Prosecutor of Antioquia, on the 23rd of January 1997.
See also letter, dated May 22 2001, to a Western government, written by the then Minister of State in the Chancellor’s Office and coordinator of the German intelligence services, Herr Bernd Schmidbauer, MdB [Link]
as well as:
the letter of appreciation, dated November 22 2005, sent to Werner Mauss by former Colombian President Ernesto Samper, who was in office at the time in question. [Link]
Isabel Seidel, the intelligent and sensual German agent has become a great enigma since she and her husband Werner Mauss were arrested in Medellin. She was involved in the freeing of hostages in Lebanon, took part in operations in Cambodia and Thailand and almost succeeded in bringing about a ceasefire with the ELN.
The following story from Cambio 16 is based upon the testimonies of people who know her and her husband well; from fellow prisoners as well as from journalistic, political and family sources in Germany and Italy. All have asked that their identities be kept secret.
Isabel Seidel and her husband Werner Mauss gaze out from the 14th floor of the marble tower in which they now live, as the first lights of the evening come on in Bogotá. The location of the building is one of the most closely guarded secrets protected by German and Colombian authorities at the present time.
In just a few weeks the justiciary will make a final decision on the couple’s legal situation. Just eight months ago they were being portrayed by the police as a pair of international terrorists involved in the negotiating of kidnappings in the Colombian jungle. From facing a possible sixty-year prison sentence, they now, thanks to an appeal to Habeas Corpus are experiencing a situation that has changed dramatically allowing them to enjoy their freedom in the wake of the total collapse of the serious accusations against them. According to their lawyers, the couple could be exonerated in less than a month.
It would be the epilogue to the most dramatic adventure experienced by the couple in their 16 years as civilian agents for the German government. None of their previous operations – the freeing of Germans kidnapped by Hussein’s troops during the invasion of Kuwait, the negotiations with terrorists in Lebanon, the bringing of the ELN leaders to Germany, the countless operations in Thailand and Cambodia – had consequences like the one to obtain the release of a kidnapped countrywoman on November 17 1996 at the Rionegro airport in Antioquia – an eight-month stay in prison. The only other trace that 30 years of intelligence work in the service of his country’s government has left on Werner Mauss, is the loss of part of the middle finger of his left hand – and that happened during participation in a horse-jumping tournament.
When they were brought before the press on that Sunday morning, some journalists began shouting to the police officer who was guarding them: “200,000 pesos if you take off her glasses.” Isabel Seidel was wearing sunglasses and her identity was at that time still unknown. The information from the intelligence service of the anti-kidnapping group that had arrested them was limited to Werner Mauss.
But her personal details were not only a mystery at that time. They still are. Her real name was erased from official registers due to the German government’s decision to furnish the couple with new identities for every case and type of operation they worked on. This was even the case at their wedding on the 11th of July 1983 when the German government provided Mauss with a special identity. Two weeks later, the couple married again under the name Mauss. Best man, or “Padrino” as he is called in Colombia at their wedding was none other than Hermann Höcherl, Germany’s first post war Interior Minister in the government of Konrad Adenauer. When they entered Colombia they were in the possession of passports that identified them as Jürgen and lsabel Seidel, but later the German embassy presented them as “Norbert Schroeder and wife.” Having two identities added to their problems with the prosecutor’s office.
Isabel was born on the 21st of March 1961 on the beautiful island of Sardinia off the west coast of Italy. Though this cannot be confirmed, it is rumoured that her real name is Alida Maria Letitia.
By the time she was nine years old she had read all the works of Salgari, Dickens and Mark Twain, classics of children’s literature. As she devoured Sandokan and the Pirates of Malaysia she was amazed by Salgari’s ability to write about jungles and about countries where he had never been. She carried her passion for reading with her wherever she went. It was something that helped her, for example, during the long weeks she once spent with her husband in a dingy Beirut hotel room waiting for a telephone call from someone who was to give them an address, or during the endless afternoons in El Buen Pastor prison in Medellin.
How did she come to know Mauss? In 1991 she was a 20-year-old Political Science student in her hometown. Chance led the German secret agent there on one of his jobs. At this time he had already spent 14 years as a special operative in the service of his government. A romance blossomed which would very soon develop into one of the most passionate and enigmatic love, and love-of-adventure, relationships of the 20th century. “Sometimes I only need to look at her and she knows what she must do”, Mauss once said.
On one occasion, contacts from the ELN arrived at the hotel where the couple were staying to say that it would not be advisable to undertake a journey they had planned, because of the risk of military controls. Isabel decided to go ahead in spite of the risks. Mauss accepted her decision because, “we travelled with a priest and the Church is respected by all sides; by the guerrillas, by the army and by the paramilitaries.”
Isabel’s character clearly shines through in a letter she sent from prison to the columnist Lucy Nieto von Samper. The journalist had claimed that Mauss was “an international trafficker” who had “taken the authorities in with his supposed humanitarian missions”. Isabel replied: “I am more afraid of the emotional illiteracy of the educated than I am of paramilitarism or of guerrillas, at least one knows where one stands with them.”
The couple do not give very much away about themselves. Around the middle of 1995 they were in the Colombian jungle to meet the leaders of the ELN. They were accompanied by journalists from the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel, with whom they had signed a contractual agreement. According to the terms of this agreement, the magazine was to pay a “penalty” of 50,000 Deutschmarks for every photograph of the pair that it published without their permission. Because the journalists also made a video for television and this was broadcast with images of the couple, some of their friends are of the opinion that if one takes theses images separately, one by one, the thousands of “photos” that result could be actionable.
Those who have seen Isabel in the jungle say that she is very agile. Not without good reason. She is a professional athlete and won competitions at meetings in Sardinia. This passion for sport has been with her since childhood. Some of her childhood friends remember that on the occasions when she missed the bus to school, she would run after it and come running to class.
The 1995 mission in the Colombian jungle was part of the most important task entrusted to the couple by the German government (working in close cooperation with the Colombian government), the task being to line up a peace process with the participation of the ELN. The agents managed the impossible; they got Gabino and Antonio Garcia, two of the guerrilla group’s top leaders, along with 19 other members of the central command, out of the country, brought them to Germany and set them face to face with Minister of State Schmidbauer, Chancellor Kohl’s right-hand man, in Bonn. “If you want a peace process, the way to begin is by releasing the German hostages and later all the other hostages also” the minister is said to have told them, according to a German source who gave details of the meeting. Their stay in Germany was to become an unforgettable experience for the guerrilleros. Mauss and his wife took them to Munich, Vienna, London, Rome and Moscow; they invited them to the opera and took them on a tour of the ruins of the Berlin Wall.
The previously made secret agreements now began to bear fruit; in the middle of July, Minister Serpa travelled to Germany. The first round of negotiations between the guerrillas and the government was planned for December of 1996 and the ceasefire was to begin in January of this year, all of this under the auspices of the German government and the Catholic Churches of both countries.
Then came the kidnapping of Brigitte Schoene, a German executive’s wife, in Rionegro (Antioquia). It was while involved in the operation to free her that the agents were arrested in the early hours of the morning of Sunday November 17.
According to those close to the case, investigations are going on into whether the kidnapped woman was “snatched away” from the German agents and minutes later “given over” to a representative of the security firm Control Risk in the Intercontinental Hotel in Medellin. The firm is also being investigated over allegations that it collected on a six million dollar anti-kidnapping policy on behalf of Frau Schoen’s husband.
The Mauss case has been in the international spotlight since then. In addition to the fact Control Risk used the anti-kidnapping group (Gaula) in their intrigues with the intention of having the German agents arrested, there are statements on file by Mariano Humberto und Victor Buitrago who have been arrested and are on trial for kidnapping. These statements claim that the first time they testified against the couple they had been forced to do so by the Gaula. In other words they were offered money to testify against the Germans.
lsabel Seidel is petite, about 1.70 m tall, with green eyes and shapely legs. She is like an owl; she has piercing eyes, listens carefully and hardly speaks at all”, says one of her fellow prisoners who remembers her from their time together in the prison in Medellin.
She speaks and writes four languages perfectly: Italian, Spanish, English and German. She also understands French well. In prison she gave English lessons, washed her own clothes and scrubbed the floor. She got up before five in the mornings and walked in the exercise yard with her fellow prisoners. From the beginning she was categorised as a maximum-security prisoner. She slept alone in a room that measured 1.60 x 1.80 metres and at the beginning guards shone torches into the cell three times a night.
Her time in Buen Pastor prison was spent in the company of murderers, members of paramilitary groups, guerrillas and women who had transported drugs. Some of them were lesbians. “They always treated me with respect”, she later commented. When she was taken to Itagüi to visit her husband she was transported in a small armoured car that forced its way through the crowds with “the entire IV Brigade” guarding her, recalls one of her prison companions. On one occasion, Mauss received a hand-written note with a demand for 10,000 dollars, payment of which would allow her to call and visit him more often. When this became known in the prison, a decision was made to transfer her to Itagui, the prison where her husband was incarcerated. Because there was no provision for women in this prison, this had to be improvised close to the yard used by her husband and she was housed there together with three other women prisoners. This was close to the end of her time in prison.
In Buen Pastor Isabel’s only freedom was access to the prison yard. As one of the maximum-security prisoners, she was not permitted to visit the theatre or other facilities. Later she was allowed to attend and assist at mass on Saturdays. Isabel is a vegetarian. In prison, she had to get used to a diet of rice and beans with the only occasional addition of meat. When her lawyers came on visits, they brought her pizzas, which she shared with her fellow prisoners. She never lost her sense of humour. She said that her favourite dish was an “egg special”: salad, potatoes and rice with an egg on top. She did not eat in the evenings. At one point, one of her fellow prisoners was a girl who had been accused of some petty shoplifting offence. She was released after two weeks, but continued to visit frequently. “Why do you visit me so often?” Isabel eventually asked her. The girl’s answer was a nervously delivered confession: “I am supposed to kill you.”
Mauss’s wife filled out her time with reading, sport and knitting, at which she is very good and which she has done since she was a child. “My mother told me that every girl has to learn many skills so that she can find a good husband”, she told her prison companions. They respected her very much. On one occasion two prisoners armed themselves with broken bottles to fight. She wanted to stop them, but the others urged her not to. In the end, however, she did manage to help break up the fight. Another time, she was playing volleyball when the ball accidentally landed on another prisoner’s plate. The woman became aggressive and threatening and while her companions backed off in fear, Isabel walked up to the woman and asked: “Do you want to hit me now, or later?”
When she first arrived in the prison she danced by leaping around – European style. By the time she left she was dancing son and porro (folk dances). She had two clocks. One of these was kept at German time so that she was better able to picture what her children might be doing at home; the other was set to Colombian time. The three children were her biggest worry. One of them is fourteen years old, one ten, and one six. In the first few months she did not feel up to talking to them. The children come first in the Mauss family. “The most important thing for children, is to give them love and raise them with discipline”, she says. Just because you are in prison, you shouldn’t give up on yourself. “Everywhere and from every person you can always learn something new.” Isabel told her fellow prisoners.
One of the things that most sticks in her memory, according to prison companions, is the time that the regional director of the public prosecutor’s office in Medellin, Fernando Enrique Mancilla Silva, came to see her in her cell in Buen Pastor. She wondered at this from the beginning, because it is not a normal part of judicial procedure for a regional prosecutor to visit a prison. Those who knew Mancilla’s office were not particularly impressed by it. The walls were covered with huge pictures of naked women. Additional causes for concern, in the opinion of the defence lawyers, were the mistakes made by the public prosecutor’s office. The testimonies of the witnesses were not carefully enough scrutinised, as it turned out that the first statements, which incriminated the agents, had been due to pressure from the Gaula. Mancilla’s visit was one of the things that agitated Isabel most, according to some of her fellow prisoners.
When the time came to leave the prison, she took nothing with her – the orthopaedic mattress given to her by the German embassy, the covers, the pillow – all left behind. She had already given away the boots that she was wearing on the day of her arrest. It almost seems as if giving away her shoes is a habit. Once, after talks with the ELN leadership, their were driving along a dirt road in a jeep. On one side the land fell away into a precipitous abyss, on the other was a sheer rock face. The jeep got stuck in mud. Everyone had to get out and push and she was given a telling off by the guides when they noticed that she was not wearing shoes. “I gave them to one of the female guerrillas who had taken a shine to them.”
Sometimes she suffered from depression in prison. “Why do you look so sad?“ she was once asked by another prisoner. You have money. With money you can solve every problem.” An assertion vigorously refuted by Isabel, who answered that money alone is not important. “Authority and respect have to be gained bit by bit, without money.”
Running her hand through her hair one day shortly after arrival at the prison a tuft came away in her hand. She was dismayed by the alarming rate at which her hair was falling out. Another prisoner who had experience of hair care gave her some treatments that eventually solved the problem.
At the root of the various religions, she says, there is a wonderful message, but they have become materialistic and people no longer know how to worship without figures or pictures. Isabel was shocked by the stories of murderers who pray to the Holy Virgin before going out to commit atrocities in her name. “Wars in the name of religion are the worst kind of wars”, she believes. And when asked by a guerrilla prisoner if she thought that they were “worse than political wars?“ answered “A thousand times worse!” Someone who uses political violence has reasons for doing so and must be listened to. Those who kill others in a religious war are so fanatical that they do it in the name of a god. One would have to be able to negotiate with this god. When the war in broke out in Kuwait, the German government commissioned Mauss to free German hostages who were being held by Hussein’s soldiers. Nobody wanted to do the job, but soon they came to see that the invaders had their reasons and only wanted to be listened to.
Jealousy of the couple on the part of “normal” intelligence operatives is something the couple have often been aware of during their careers as civilian agents for the German government. Privately Herr and Frau Mauss are proud of their involvement in the arrests of 2,000 criminals and in the breaking up of 100 or so criminal organisations.
So they had the feeling of being in the wrong film when they found themselves in prison for the first time in their lives.
Isabel felt an incredible sense of loneliness the day they were taken to the Antioquia anti-kidnapping group’s cell in Medellin. “I needed someone to give me courage, but at the worst moments in our lives we are always alone” she later confided to a fellow prisoner.
Werner Mauss’s worries at the time were only for his wife. He knew that they had the full support of the German government, but was worried about what was happening to his wife. This was more of a worry than his own lack of knowledge of Spanish. That was of no importance. He made himself understood with his hands, through gestures or facial expressions. The first people he encountered in the maximum-security prison in Itagüi belonged to the hard core of the Medellin cartel. In contrast to Mauss who was counting the days until his release, these former lieutenants of Pablo Escobar feared the day when they would have to leave the prison, because it would mean their deaths.
Mauss is a very disciplined person. From the very first day he set about the task of ordering all of the information with his lawyers. He did not have the patience for listening to music or reading, as he recounted later. His days were filled with discussions with his lawyers and thinking about Isabel.
“I couldn’t do anything else, after so many years together between love, life and death” one hears Mauss say in that luxury edifice, somewhere in Bogotá, where they await, like prisoners, the law’s final pronouncement on their case.
(Translated from German)