Picture Credit: CEN
The trial of this 58-year-old far-right politician accused of grooming a 13-year-old girl, also pictured, and sexually abusing her 108 times as they fled across Europe has got underway.
Berhard Haase, who was the state treasurer of the far-right ‘Die Republikaner’ (‘The Republicans’) party in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, is currently standing trial in Freiburg, a city in the south-western German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.
He is accused of grooming then 13-year-old schoolgirl Maria Brigitte Henselmann and sexually abusing her 108 times while trying to evade capture from police officers searching for them.
Maria, now 19, testified in court as the main witness against Haase and chose to do so in front of him instead of in a different room via video interview in order to spare her the burden of facing off with her tormentor.
Maria’s mother Monika Beisler said: “It is her wish to do it while looking him in the eyes. It will also make her stronger afterwards when this is all over.”
According to Beisler, the testimony – which was done in a closed courtroom away from cameras and the press – was far from easy for her daughter.
Beisler said: “Maria broke down. She was crying and shaking. She could not get up on her feet either, nothing more, nothing at all.”
Maria reportedly met Haase, a trained electrician, online in 2002 and told him that she was suffering from family problems at home.
Haase allegedly manipulated the 13-year-old into starting a new life with him. She is said to have fled to Poland with him after telling her mum she was staying with friends on a sleepover.
Police found Haase’s car and, a short distance away, his abandoned pet dog Simba in Poland in July 2013, but then lost track of the pair.
The pair then allegedly travelled from Poland through multiple Eastern European countries to Italy, where they lived in the Sicilian coastal town of Licata.
In Licata, they pretended to be father and daughter, saying that Maria’s mother had died years ago, living in a semi-derelict house and relying on handouts for food.
One neighbour said: “For four years they occupied a house outside of Licata. A ruin, without windows and doors, totally primitive.”
Another said: “They were neatly dressed. They were always quiet, did not beg directly. We asked them if they needed anything, bought sugar, bread, milk and meat for them.”
Nobody asked why both were dependent on church welfare for food or why Maria did not attend school.
Maria finally decided to leave Haase and give herself up to the police after her 18th birthday. When Haase realised what she had done, he reportedly went crazy and ran out shouting through the streets of Licata, after which worried locals called the cops who then arrested him.
According to Beisler, the conditions in which the two lived in Italy were horrendous.
She said: “If people knew what the child went through in Sicily, no one would say she was in love with Haase.”
Haase could receive up to ten years in jail if found guilty, although Beisler hopes that the court will order additional preventive detention which German judges can order if the perpetrator is deemed a risk for society in severe cases.
Beisler said: “He shows no insight at all. He must be put under surveillance. I am firmly convinced that this will happen again.”
The trial is continuing.