The System of Putin

Among Spies

One of the prime suspects in the HP corruption scandal knows how to keep silent

von David Crawford , Marcus Bensmann

© Nick Böse

Hilmar L. is not a Stasi agent who was entangled by chance with the spy service and later regretted his actions. Stasi records show Hilmar L. wholeheartedly spied.

In 1980 two Stasi officers approach him to assess his willingness for secret cooperation. According to L.’s 750-page Stasi file, he displays an „open-minded, even interested attitude towards all problems presented to him…He even expressed surprise that the Ministry for State Security had not contacted him earlier.“

For almost ten years, until the collapse of the GDR, L. remains loyal to the spy service. Under the code name „Wolfgang Bley“, he is assigned to monitor his colleagues at the Central Institute for Astrophysics in Babelsberg. He is also tasked with assisting recruitment operations and with collecting information on scientists who have defected to the West.

In August 1980 L. writes to his Stasi case officer: „I will observe strict silence towards third parties in regard to this cooperation. I have been made familiar with the basic principles of secrecy.“

A short time later, his loyalty is tested with a fake letter from West Berlin – L. passes the test. In 1985, his Stasi supervisor honors him for his successful work and gives him a camera worth 778.50 East German Marks. When he travels abroad, the Stasi pays him 100 West German Marks as an expense allowance.

Due to his good results, on 21st January 1986, „Wolfgang Bley“ is promoted to the status of IMB, an „informal agent in contact with the enemy“.

Hilmar L. seems to find enemies everywhere: he describes a professor in Italy who generously paid L.’s travel expenses as a possible recruiter for enemy counterintelligence.

He even deceives his boss at the Stasi: in Bonn he copies a 50-page commemorative paper on astronomy in West Germany as well as a magazine report on the Strategic Defense Initiative, a U.S. plan to defend against nuclear missiles.

Both documents are anything but secret: they are open to the public in the Bonn observatory library. Hilmar L. loses the documents on the way back home – and tells his handler that the secret material was stolen out of his luggage by enemy counterintelligence agents.

Hilmar L. does well for himself after German reunification. He starts a career in IT sales. In 1996, L. joins Hewlet-Packard where he rises to become one of the leading managers for H-P in Russia.

Later in court records, prosecutors describe L. as one of the main proponents of the alleged bribery deal with the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office. In statements to prosecutors L. denies the allegation.

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Does the Russian spy service FSB know about his Stasi past? That would not be surprising. The FSB archive holds numerous Stasi files, and the Russian intelligence service knows the former Stasi agent network.

CORRECTIV asked the Russian Presidential Office and Hilmar L. about these allegations. There was no answer from Moscow, but Hilmar L.’s lawyer said via telephone that his client would not comment on the case.

As a former Stasi agent, Hilmar L. knows the power of spy services. According to German investigators, he urges HP directors to not only take the Prosecutor General’s Office into account with bribes, but also employees of the FSB, saying otherwise the deal would not be possible. (L. denies this allegation during an interrogation by German prosecutors.)

In 2009, Hilmar L. returns to Germany.

At this time, the investigation into the HP corruption scandal is already underway. L. is arrested on 2nd December 2009, along with two other former Hewlett-Packard managers. He is held in Leipzig in pre-trial detention. His two colleagues are released just after Christmas; they complied with the prosecution’s request to answer questions about the case.

But Hilmar L. remains silent. For 16 weeks, until 25th March 2010. Then he pays a 350,000 Euro bond and is released.

What did he once write to his Stasi case officer? „I have been made familiar with the basic principles of secrecy.“

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Putin week at CORRECTIV

German-English Translation: Noah Walker-Crawford

Copy Editor: Ariel Hauptmeier

In Cooperation with RTL und Mediapart.