The 232nd hearing of a trial on a neo-Nazi gang accused of racially motivated murders in Germany has stirred up a new controversy. German media reported chief judge Manfred Götzl announced in yesterday's trial that confidential documents regarding the trial were found on a sidewalk in Cologne. Götzl asked all lawyers in the trial about the owner of the documents though he could not get the answer in the latest embarrassment involving the trial of Nationalist Socialist Underground (NSU) members. The judge also lambasted prosecutors for a witness not showing up, though she was repeatedly summoned, and ordered an investigation.
The documents reportedly include information and correspondences regarding evidence supplied by witnesses, security agencies and others, and were handed to lawyers for victims by the court.
The trial, which started in May 2013, was entangled with a series of disputes and suspicious incidents. Beate Zschaepe, the sole surviving member of the NSU, had engaged in a dispute with her defense team and attempted to fire them, prolonging the legal process. Later, lawyers for Zschaepe who have remained silent in the hearings since the trial began had asked the court to relieve them of their duties after a disagreement with Zschaepe - a request the court rejected.
In March, Melisa M., 20, a witness in the trial, was found dead in her home. The young woman was the ex-girlfriend of a witness with ties to the NSU, who himself died under mysterious circumstances two years ago.
Her death sparked suspicions over a possible cover-up in the case, especially after media reports and statements by the victims' lawyers pointed to the involvement of the German intelligence agency with the gang.
Melisa M. was the third witness to die since the trial began. In 2014, Thomas R., another witness, died of a previously undiagnosed diabetes. Thomas R. was reportedly an informant for German intelligence.
The NSU, which is composed of two men and a woman, is accused of killing 10 people including eight German citizens of Turkish origin, a Greek man and a policewoman, as well as conducting bombs and bank robberies between 2000 and 2007.
Zschaepe stands trial as the only surviving gang member while four others are tried on charges of aiding and abetting the gang members. Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, other members of the gang, were found dead in an apparent suicide in a trailer in which they were hiding in 2011. Zschaepe, 40, had turned herself in after setting a house the gang stayed at for some time on fire, allegedly to destroy evidence.
After the discovery of the NSU, it was revealed in the trial that the gang had connections to informants recruited by the German intelligence agency, which raised the question of whether the intelligence officials had knowledge of the gang's activities and deliberately ignored it.
Lawyers for the Turkish victims of attacks had complained earlier that the German state failed to shed light on the gang's "connections" to German intelligence services.
Now, the German parliament will establish a new inquiry committee about the case. Eva Högl, a member of the parliamentary committee investigating the case, had told a German daily in August that the new committee will try to find answers to questions regarding the gang, adding that she did not believe the NSU acted alone in its crimes and it had a wide network of support inside and outside Germany.
In yesterday's hearing, the court heard forensics expert Dr. Oliver Peschel. Peschel had examined victims of a grocery store robbery in 1998 and a nail bomb attack in Cologne in 2004, both blamed on the NSU.
A new timetable released in August had revealed that the trial will continue until at least September 2016. The timetable provided by the court in Munich looking into the case shows it will take months before the testimony of eyewitnesses concludes.