A law professor and the chairwoman of the Grass Foundation are alleged to have embezzled money on many occasions. Victims were the foundation – and their own children.
Hall in the district court on Friday. Something crucial is missing: the defendants Photo: Peter Bischoff
Around quarter past nine, it becomes clear: The defendants are not coming today. A case of public interest was to be heard before the district court on Friday – among other things, on how a good 23,000 euros could have been embezzled from the assets of the Gunter Grass Foundation in Bremen.
But the defendant, the former chairwoman of the foundation, and her husband, a former law professor at the University of Bremen, who is also on trial, are absent without excuse. The indictment is not read out; instead of a traditional sentence, a penalty order is issued without a trial: At the request of the public prosecutor’s office, the judge imposes a suspended prison sentence of one year for each of the two defendants, as well as a fine of 120 days each.
The couple can still appeal against this. But with a penalty order, on which a court can never impose more than one year’s imprisonment, the two may not have done badly at all. The defendants are charged with 80 counts of embezzlement (or incitement to embezzlement) and two counts of fraud. Their victims: the Grass Foundation, two craft enterprises and their own children. A total of 81,000 euros in damages were incurred.
The case surrounding the foundation came to public attention in 2018. As managing director, the defendant had sole power of attorney over the account. In 2017, she began, according to the court, instigated by her husband, to withdraw money from the foundation – ostensibly for the cash fund. In fact, however, the couple diverted a total of 23,660.16 euros into their own pockets via 31 such transactions. As reason the two gave money emergency.
There is not much money to be had
For the Grass Foundation, this could have threatened its existence – after all, about a third of the annual budget was lost. But a private donor stepped in with the entire sum. The defendants must now compensate the damage. "We already expect the money to come back," says former executive director Horst Monsees. "Fortunately, we are not in urgent need of it thanks to the donation."
That’s good for the foundation, which is currently relocating to Bremen’s uberseestadt district. Even the rather low daily rates of euros respectively for the wife and husband indicate that the family’s finances are probably not in good shape. Above all, however, there are still other outstanding claims against the L.s.
The two charges of fraud amount to a total of just under 6,000 euros: Twice, the L.s had had work done by tradesmen, even though they knew they would not be able to pay the bill. In addition further cases of embezzlement come: The two under-aged children of the married couple had received according to in each case scarcely 100,000 euro from an inheritance. The L.s are said to have withdrawn 57,000 euros of it for their own purposes.
Family lived in hotels and strange houses
Not all of the cases the couple used to defraud themselves of benefits actually ended up in court. In 2018, the Weser Kurier reported that the family had repeatedly taken up residence in better hotels in the city – for months on end, until in each case it turned out that they were unable to pay.
Peter Bischoff, another aggrieved party, is also sitting in the auditorium for the trial, which is not taking place: at the end of 2013, he had wanted to sell a house to the family. For more than half a year, as Bischoff describes in his own notes on the contact, L. kept finding new excuses why the purchase price could not yet be transferred: Problems at the bank, defaulting clients, scheduling conflicts.
Bischoff then withdrew from the purchase contract at the end of 2014. But he still had costs: he was stuck with the brokerage and notary fees, and he also had to sell his house at a forced sale, thus making a large loss. In other real estate purchases, the L.s are said to have been more successful – there, according to Weser Kurier, they were able to live in the unpaid villas for months before they were thrown out of the purchase contracts there, too.
The public prosecutor’s office did not consider these cases to be attempted fraud. Bischoff believes otherwise: "As a law professor, he knows exactly what is not yet interpreted as fraud," he says on the sidelines of the trial without a hearing.