Werner Mauss, described as Germany’s answer to James Bond, went on trial Monday for tax evasion, accused of hiding some 50 million euros from the government in a number of offshore accounts in Luxembourg, Lichtenstein and the Bahamas.
The 76-year-old spy — who claims among his exploits foiling a Mafia plot to poison Pope Benedict XVI and free hostages from Colombian rebels — allegedly owes the state 15 million in euros stemming from investment income, Deutsche Welle reported.
Mauss’ attorneys claim the offshore accounts were opened by Western and Israeli intelligence officials to fund covert operations in the 1980s. The money was transferred to an account in Mauss’ name at a UBS subsidiary in Luxembourg, but he denied he owes taxes on the funds. Tax authorities are concentrating on funds deposited between 2003 and 2013, Quartz reported.
His lawyers say they cannot mount a proper defense because many of Mauss’ assignments still are secret.
“I fight death and the devil,” Quartz quoted Mauss as saying, adding he found James Bond films boring compared to what he did. His website says he specializes in hostage rescue and has been involved in the capture of 2,000 criminals.
Colombian authorities in 1997 accused him of plotting the kidnappings of foreign executives for the purpose of negotiating multimillion-dollar ransoms.
Mauss, who has at least three other names — Claus Möllner, Dieter Koch, Richard Nelson — appeared in court Monday in Bochum, North Rhine-Westphalia, wearing a parka with the hood up, the Telegraph reported.
The Telegraph said Mauss started out as a private detective at the age of 20 and worked as a free-lance agent rather than a government employee.
The daily Handelsblatt Suddeutsche Zeitung reported Mauss’ name surfaced after investigators found one of his alleged aliases on a list of UBS account holders purchased from a whistleblower. His name also was connected to several shell companies named in the so-called Panama Papers — leaked documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca that ensnared a number of European government officials.
If convicted Mauss could face as long as 10 years in prison.