German newspaper Berliner Zeitung has launched an investigation into its new owner Holger Friedrich. Friedrich confirmed reports that he had been an informant for the East German secret police.
Holger Friedrich, an IT multimillionaire and his wife Silke, purchased Berliner Verlag, the publishing house behind the Berliner Zeitung daily, in September.
However, on Friday, Welt am Sonntag published dozens of documents showing Friedrich had been an informant for the East German Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, during his military service between 1987 and 1989.
The publication claimed that Friedrich had operated under the code name “Peter Bernstein,” and reported on fellow soldiers during military service for the National People’s Army.
They claim that the documents they obtained show Friedrich had delivered several damning reports on his colleagues.
In a statement issued on Nov.15, responding to questions by Welt am Sonntag, Friedrich admitted signing a cooperation contract with the spying agency. He said he had been forced to do so after a failed escape attempt to the West.
He claimed that after being arrested, the state security had given him two choices, being transferred to the military prosecutor’s office in Neubrandenburg and facing a sentence of up to seven years in a military prison in Sweden, or agreeing to become an agent.
Friedrich claimed that after a “lengthy interrogation,” he agreed to become an agent but was “not active.”
After his release in 1989, he claims he had no contact with members of the Stasi, despite their repeated attempts to get him to cooperate.
Friedrich has since promised journalists his “full support and cooperation” in their efforts to investigate how involved Friedrich was with the Ministry for State Security.
Meanwhile, the editorial team at the Berliner Zeitung and Berliner Kurier shared a joint statement saying they would be investigating the matter “journalistically.”
“We stand for independent journalism. Like we have in the past, we will continue to contribute to coming to terms with the GDR’s history.
“We will deal with this as with other cases. We will collect facts. We want to see the files—the victims—and the perpetrators’ files. Holger Friedrich has expressly assured the editorial staff that he will support them on this path,” the statement read.
Their investigation will also focus on why Friedrich did not inform them about his connection with the East German secret police earlier, they added.
The Stasi was one of the most feared institutions of the East German communist government and was responsible for both domestic political surveillance and foreign espionage, reportedly maintaining files on 6 million East German citizens—more than one-third of the population.
It had 90,000 full-time employees who were assisted by 170,000 full-time unofficial collaborators who spied on friends, family members, and colleagues and reported back to selected handlers.