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German ex-officials file war crimes complaint against Russia

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Two former German government ministers have submitted a criminal complaint with federal prosecutors seeking the opening of a war crimes probe against Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, over the conflict in Ukraine.

Former Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and former Interior Minister Gerhart Baum said Thursday that they want to use German laws allowing prosecution of serious crimes committed abroad to bring to justice those they consider responsible for atrocities in Ukraine.

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Germany’s application of the rule of ‘universal jurisdiction’ led to the first conviction of a senior Syrian official for crimes against humanity earlier this year.

Lawyer Nikolaos Gazeas, who compiled the 140-page criminal complaint on their behalf, said it targets not just the Russian leadership of President Putin and the 32 members of his security council, but also “a whole series of members of the Russian military.”

The crimes detailed in the complaint range from the attack on a nuclear power plant to the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol, he said.

Gazeas added that federal prosecutors could also use information obtained by intelligence agencies when deciding whether to launch a case.

He cited specifically a report Thursday by weekly Der Spiegel that Germany’s foreign intelligence agency had intercepted radio messages between Russian soldiers discussing the killings of civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.

While prosecutors at the International Criminal Court have also launched an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine, Gazeas said parallel probes in multiple jurisdictions made sense and could be mutually reinforcing.

“The law is a weapon in this situation,” said Baum, “and we want to use it.”

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