Are private investigators police officers

: Private detectives do things that police officers are not allowed to do. That's why they are hired by companies. A practical report: The hidden investigators

BERLIN. No names, no photos, says the detective on the phone. "We can talk about anything, but my identity has to remain taboo. Otherwise I'll be dead." When we meet in a small café deep in southern Germany, he says that if discovered, he would not really die. "But I would be economically exhausted if my name or even my face appeared in the media. No private investigator can afford such publicity." He says he doesn't understand how the two Berlin private detectives who spied on a journalist for Telekom to talk about it in the newspaper. "And then with a photo," says the detective and taps his forehead. "They are burned. Over and over." The detective - let's call him Mr Weber - is around sixty years old. He is of medium size with light hair and a small belly base. He drinks green tea in the café. An inconspicuous man. As if made for his job. On this day, Mr. Weber is on the road on behalf of an international law firm. It's about copyright infringement. Mr. Weber does not want to disclose more details. In the next few days he will cross the German border a few times, he just says. He will travel to Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Austria. "The police cannot do that, they have to stay in the country, work with requests for legal assistance, have certain investigative methods approved by a judge. All of this is time-consuming and bureaucratic," says Mr Weber. "For a detective there are no limits. So none that he cannot cross," says Mr. Weber. It is precisely these border crossings that have brought the detective industry into the headlines lately. A detective agency for the retail group Lidl secretly spied on its employees with cameras at their workplaces. Deutsche Telekom hired private investigators to evaluate cell phone data from employees and journalists in order to track down information leaks in the company. For the Swiss Nestlé group, a security company smuggled an agent into the globalization-critical organization Attac, who was supposed to gain information on a book project about the food company. Suddenly, an industry whose natural environment is the twilight is in the spotlight. There are a good thousand private and business detectives in Germany. Mostly they are lone fighters or small companies with two, at most three employees. In addition, there are only a few large, mostly international detective agencies such as Control Risks or Kroll. Very few detectives have completed any special vocational training here in this country. However, they often have sufficient snooping experience, because most detectives were previously police officers or secret service agents. In Berlin and the eastern German states, it is therefore often former Stasi employees who, because of their professional experience and their networks, are often entrusted with covert investigations by companies. In Germany, theoretically anyone can register a trade as a private investigator, but apply at work strict restrictions. A detective does not have the rights and powers of the police for a long time, and unlike the officials, he is also more subject to data protection law. For example, detectives are not allowed to use bugs to eavesdrop. Mr. Schneider nods when the conversation turns to data protection, then waves it off. "One is the theory," he says. "And the other is practice." Mr. Schneider is also a detective, and that's why his name is also wrong. He has his detective agency in Dresden, on a busy street near the city center. There are no employees here, "part-time investigators" are only hired if a case requires it, on a fee basis. Mr. Schneider is in his early 50s when the going gets tough. Earlier, in the GDR, Mr. Schneider was with the criminal police. He's been a detective since the fall of the Wall. "I've got my livelihood," he says. In any case, he can't complain about a lack of orders. The most lucrative jobs come from business. For example, he once had to research a store manager in Bautzen for a well-known retail chain. "I was told that there were huge inventory losses in the supermarket and that this woman was suspected of being involved in criminal activities." Schneider and his team observed the woman for weeks. A tracking device was attached to her car. Schneider also smuggled an employee into the market as an alleged intern. "That was a really expensive operation," he says. After a while, however, he realized that his client was apparently pursuing a completely different intention with the order. "Above all, they wanted to know how close the woman was to the union. Suddenly it was all about how often she went to Verdi and with whom she met there," Schneider recalls. The detective experienced such surprises more often in his work. "And not only for business orders," says the detective, pulling a folder from the shelf. Land contracts are filed in it, company documents, letters with the letterhead of an East German state parliament. "There are also people and factions in political parties who are at war. And when you know that the opponent has messed up in your own party, you get a private detective to have leverage in hand at the right time "says Schneider. Investigations are Schneider's specialty. Evaluating files, questioning people, observing - he has now made a name for himself in the industry. Other detective agencies specialize in technical surveillance and reconnaissance, a third group is hired when it comes to cases of industrial or competitive espionage. Specialization has advantages. "If, for example, I need technology for an order, I bring the company in question on board or I rent individual components from it," explains Schneider. "I usually get my orders from law firms, whose clients are corporations, large companies or wealthy ones Individuals are, "he says. This procedure has its advantages for everyone involved. The clients do not come into direct contact with the detectives and can claim afterwards that they had no idea what they were doing. And the detective can appear under cover, namely when the law firm temporarily hires him as a legal assistant, which happens in some cases. “That makes it easier for me to access the authorities because lawyers and their assistants have more rights than private detectives.” With the power of attorney from a law firm in hand, Schneider can, for example, view certain files and files, for example in the Stasi records authority, in land registries and company registers . "And if there is already an official investigation against my target person, I have the opportunity to inspect the investigation files," says the detective, lifting a wad of paper from his table. "These are, for example, all the account details of a man from whom my client is demanding compensation. There is a case against the man, but he has fled abroad and is difficult to grasp for the German authorities there. My job is to find a direct solution between to prepare my client and the man by gathering as much information as possible about him. "Mr. Weber, who drinks green tea in the small café in southern Germany, should also prepare a" direct solution "in his current case. His job is to collect as much incriminating material as possible against the target person for his client. Mr. Weber calls this "process preparation". In fact, however, in his cases there are seldom legal proceedings. "My clients usually go for a silent solution," he says. The person concerned is confronted with the evidence of his wrongdoing and given the choice of paying for the damage he has caused or risking criminal proceedings. "Most of them pay, and my clients are satisfied," he says. Mr. Weber was once a police officer. He worked as an undercover agent over twenty years ago. Back then, he had sneaked into a gang of counterfeiters, it was a tough time, he says. "After that I left the police and started my own business." Once you've been to the front, he says, it's difficult to submit to the regulated everyday life of the authorities again. "That doesn't mean that as a detective I don't have to adhere to rules and laws," he adds quickly. “But I can decide for myself when to cross the border.” And a border hike is his job every day. For example, Weber works with VPs, as he calls them. These are "undercover people" that he hires when a job calls for it. Such TPs approach the respective target person with a false identity. They pretend a business interest or initiate a friendship in order to research the person concerned. "The Federal Court of Justice speaks of cunning and trickery and a few years ago sanctioned such a procedure for private investigators in a judgment," says Weber. The problem is that the TPs have to deal with forged passports and credit cards - but that in turn is punishable. Counterfeit papers are often not the only border violation that private detective Weber has to commit in order to satisfy his clients. Sometimes he also listens to phone calls or eavesdropping in apartments. Abroad, he has also paid public officials to hand out account documents or business contracts. Is there information and data that he cannot access? "No," says Weber. “It's all just a question of money.” As private investigators, Weber and his colleagues are repeatedly faced with the decision to commit a crime or not to do so. "Your client is not interested," says Weber. "He wants a result, even if he knows that it can often only be achieved through the use of illegal means and methods." Mr. Weber has drunk his green tea. He will now meet his TP and instruct the man how to approach the target person and gain their trust. "We have to get to his documents," he says. And how? "I'll think of something," says Mr. Weber .------------------------------ "There are no limits for a detective . So none that he cannot cross. " Mr. Weber ------------------------------ Photo: There are a good thousand private and business detectives in Germany. Most of them were previously police officers or secret service agents.