May 2, 2014 / 3:43 PM / 5 years ago

German government warns against inviting Snowden to testify in parliamentary inquiry

BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government advised against calling former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to Berlin as a witness in a parliamentary inquiry into U.S. spying, saying this would cause damage to relations with Washington.

Accused government whistleblower Edward Snowden is seen on a screen as he speaks via video conference with members of the Committee on legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe during an hearing on "mass surveillance" at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, April 8, 2014. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

The fugitive Snowden was granted asylum in Russia last year after exposing details of massive U.S. intelligence-gathering programs at home and abroad. It is considered unlikely that he would set foot in any U.S.-allied country like Germany because of the risk of being arrested and extradited.

But in a report, the German government made clear it had no wish to see Snowden come to testify in parliament as this “would have a significant negative impact on the German-American relationship, particularly on cooperation with U.S. intelligence”.

Snowden could, however, give testimony abroad, the report said, adding that German security interests should take precedence over the parliamentary investigation.

An attached report from a U.S. law firm sent to the German embassy in Washington said the United States “has jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed in Germany, Russia or elsewhere through which classified information from the U.S. has been disclosed”.

That would make it an offence for a member of parliament to make secret U.S. information public, which could be the case if Snowden testified. The report said Washington might respect the immunity of German lawmakers but was not required to do so.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Washington to meet U.S. President Barack Obama but the “no spy” deal she demanded last year after reports that the National Security Agency tapped her mobile phone is not expected to come off.

The German government report also noted that if Snowden traveled to Germany, Berlin might be legally obliged to extradite him to the United States.

Christiane Wirtz, a spokeswoman for the German government, said it was ultimately up to the investigation committee to decide whether to invite Snowden or not.

Konstantin von Notz, a member of the opposition Greens and of the investigation committee, said his parliamentary faction would manage to get Snowden to testify by taking the issue to the constitutional court in Karlsruhe if necessary.

“If there are attempts to prevent Snowden from giving evidence on these issues which are important for Germany and Europe, we will not shy away from taking this to Karlsruhe,” he was quoted as saying by German broadcaster NDR.

He was charged last year in the United States with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person.

Snowden was believed to have taken 1.7 million computerized documents. The leaked documents revealed massive programs run by the NSA that gathered information on emails, phone calls and Internet use by hundreds of millions of Americans. The surveillance programs also extended to U.S. allies.

Reporting by Gernot Heller; Writing by Alexandra Hudson and Michelle Martin, editing by Mark Heinrich

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