His eyelids are scarred. A 42-year-old is now on trial. Is there an economic crime behind it?

Bernhard Günther (l), former CFO of Innogy, and his lawyer Martin Meinberg (r) are waiting for the trial to begin in Wuppertal. dpa / Federico Gambarini

Not far from his house near Düsseldorf, unknown persons burned the manager Bernhard Günther with sulfuric acid. “A very terrible process that has never happened in the German economy before,” says the co-plaintiff. A suspected assassin has been on trial since Friday.

The man in the dark blue suit carefully examines the man in the black training jacket who is sitting across from him. In March 2018, a crime took place in Haan near Düsseldorf that attracted international attention. The energy manager Bernhard Günther was attacked not far from his house and doused with acid. On Friday, make-up covered up the consequences of what was happening in room 147 of the Wuppertal district court.

The manager comes to the trial as a joint plaintiff

Günther (55) came to the start of the process as a joint plaintiff. The man in the dock is a 42-year-old Belgian. The process begins with appeals to him to make a confession. The presiding judge, Holger Jung, says the record speaks “with a high probability of a guilty verdict”. He strongly recommends that he reconsider his silence on the allegation. A confession could save him “a few years” in prison.

Günther’s co-prosecutor Martin Meinberg agrees: “We would appreciate it very much if you could bring yourself to participate in the overall investigation. That was a very terrible process, which has never happened before in the German economy.”

If the accused named “horse and rider”, that would be “a piece of moral and personal reparation”. The defense attorney signals briefly to discuss the matter again with the accused.

Acid has eaten away at the neck of the jogging jacket

Crime scene photos are presented: bread rolls lie scattered on a footpath, a little further lies a jar with a disposable glove put on. He plays a crucial role. The police also photographed a jogging jacket that was completely acid-eaten in the neck area.

At the time, Günther was CFO of the RWE subsidiary Innogy. On March 4, 2018, he was picked up in a park and attacked from behind, 200 meters from his front door. The perpetrators used concentrated sulfuric acid of the type used in car batteries. Günther was taken to a special clinic with severe chemical burns, at times his life was in danger. “This is an important day for my family and for me, but not an easy day either,” said the 55-year-old immediately before the trial began. He hopes for justice, for the investigation of the case. The assassination left many traces both internally and externally.

His world is no longer what it was

“The body feels foreign,” said the 55-year-old. His eyelids are scarred. “I feel that every morning when I wake up, that the world is no longer the way it was before the attack.”

On Friday, the accused remained silent about the crime, but he was willing to provide information about his previous life: He had four siblings, after graduating from school he worked as a car mechanic, occasionally repaired cars “under the counter” and founded several companies. He loves and collects exotic birds, he reveals. Photos show him with a parrot on his shoulder. He was often in Germany, often to visit brothels, and was privately friends with former prostitutes. The public prosecutor’s office indicates that he may have met accomplices in the attack in one of the establishments.

The judge only lists a number of traffic offenses from the Belgian criminal record as criminal records. The man was arrested in the Belgian province of Limburg last December after a DNA comparison had thrown a bull’s eye.

Two years before the acid attack, Günther had been attacked and beaten up by strangers. Günther suspects the client for both robberies in his professional environment. So far he has not mentioned the name.

Is there a connection with events in the company?

The investigation had already been stopped when the manager commissioned private investigators. Günther’s company, Innogy, had also offered a 100,000 euro reward for information leading to the clarification of the case. “My client will not rest until the intermediaries and the actual client are themselves in court one day,” announces Meinberg. A few days after the robbery, it became known that the RWE subsidiary Innogy was to be broken up and parts taken over by competitor Eon.

If convicted, the accused faces between 3 and 15 years in prison for intentionally causing serious bodily harm. The court has scheduled eight days of hearings for the case through the end of August.

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