Christoph Koller, presiding judge of the 5th criminal senate of the Higher Regional Court (OLG) Frankfurt, wants to make something clear after the verdict against Franco A. was announced on Friday: The five judges did not take into account the extensive reporting on the attention-grabbing proceedings when making their decision, but that extensive evidence gathered over the 39 days of the trial. Also, the Senate did not “apply criminal law based on convictions”, but decided according to the criminal offense established. The judges are convinced: the 33-year-old Bundeswehr officer made the firm decision to attack high-ranking politicians and public figures.”
The court therefore sentenced Franco A. to a total of five years and six months in prison for preparing a serious act of violence that was dangerous to the state, illegal possession of weapons and other violations of the weapons law, as well as fraud. Three months of this are already considered executed because of the long detention. The verdict is not yet final – A.’s defense has already announced that it intends to appeal.
“The accused has a right-wing extremist, nationalist and racist attitude that has been firmly established for years,” says the oral verdict. He has a particular aversion to people of the Jewish faith, he attaches to conspiracy theories. With the actions, which the court was convinced he was determined to do, he wanted to bring about a political or social change of direction and, in his opinion, wanted to contribute “to the preservation of the German nation”. Although he has not yet specified the attack plans in concrete terms, the court is convinced that A. wanted to “set an example”.
His conspiratorial behavior also speaks for a decision to act. When he was arrested again in March, numerous mobile phones and prepaid SIM cards were found on him.
According to the court, A. considered the then Vice President of the Bundestag Claudia Roth, the then Minister of Justice Heiko Maas and the founder of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, Anetta Kahane, as possible victims of the attack. However, the court was unable to determine whether A. wanted to carry out attacks using the assumed pseudo-identity of a Syrian refugee. It was also not possible to establish how A. acquired weapons and where they are now.
Franco A., whose burgundy shirt resembles the hue of federal prosecutors’ robes, follows the verdict calmly and attentively, head bowed slightly, hands clasped in front of his body. He doesn’t show any emotion when the court once again quotes from his notes, from his master’s thesis with racist formulations and nationalist theses.
Franco A. posed as a Syrian refugee and led a double life for months. As an alleged refugee, according to the indictment, he had also received material and financial benefits – which is why there was also an allegation of fraud. The pseudo-identity came out when A. was arrested at Vienna Airport in February 2017. There he wanted to get a loaded pistol from a hiding place in an airport toilet.
The perseverance of the investigative authorities ultimately paid off, says federal prosecutor Karin Weingast after the verdict. In her plea, she had called for a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence. Nevertheless, she is satisfied with the verdict: “I see it as an important success in the fight against right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism in the Federal Republic of Germany.”
Moritz Schmitt-Fricke, one of A.’s defense attorneys, who demanded his client’s acquittal a week ago, speaks of a “highly political process”. He had looked in vain for convincing proof of the attack plans in the verbal justification. His colleague Johannes Hock, who had already emphasized in his pleading that the taking of evidence had unearthed findings that had “a lot to do with attitudes, but little to do with crimes”, criticizes the handling of paragraph 89A, which deals with preparation a serious act of violence endangering the state.
With the introduction of this paragraph into criminal law, the legislature wanted to record Islamist suicide bombers, says Hock. These are cases where the preparation and the completion of the crime fell within such a short period of time that action had to be taken very early. “But if someone has material for an assassination for two and a half years and does not use it, then that is not the case that is meant. We have to be careful that we don’t lose sight of the requirements for criminal liability and screw them down too far.”
Franco A. himself denied the allegations to the end, but admitted to having hoarded several weapons and ammunition in the event of a collapse of public order in Germany.