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East German spy swap fixer dies

Wolfgang Vogel revisits Berlin's Glienicker bridge in 1997
Vogel revisited the site of his most famous swaps in 1997

East German lawyer Wolfgang Vogel, who oversaw some of the Cold War's biggest swaps of captured spies in Berlin, has died at 82, his family says.

Vogel died on Thursday at his home in Schliersee, Bavaria, after recently suffering a heart attack.

His swaps included KGB agent Rudolf Abel for US pilot Gary Powers, shot down over the USSR, in 1962.

He also oversaw the transfer of nearly a quarter of a million people from East to West Germany for billions of marks.

After reunification in 1989, Vogel was accused of fleecing some of his former East German clients of their properties and swindling his Western negotiating partners, and was briefly imprisoned in the 1990s.

Spies, prisoners, emigres

Born in Lower Silesia on 30 October 1925, Vogel studied law in Jena and Leipzig after World War II and graduated as a lawyer.

US pilot Gary Powers poses in front of a U-2 spy plane in this undated photo
The Powers-Abel swap made world headlines in 1962

Encouraged by East Germany's secret police, the Stasi, to make contacts among West German lawyers, he gradually became a broker for the spy swaps and prisoner exchanges which would make him famous in Germany.

The exchange of Powers for Abel, an English-born KGB man who had been caught spying in New York in 1957, was the first.

It was conducted, like some of the others which followed, on the Glienicker bridge between Potsdam in East Germany and West Berlin.

Guenter Guillaume, a Stasi agent unmasked among the closest aides of West German Chancellor Will Brandt, was exchanged in 1981 for captured Western agents.

In all, Vogel brokered the exchange of more than 150 spies and his swaps included the liberation of Soviet Jewish dissident Anatoly Shcharansky (now Natan Sharansky, an Israeli citizen) in 1986.

But he also helped to broker the transfer of more than 34,000 East German political prisoners and 215,000 ordinary citizens to the West, beginning in 1964.

West Germany paid nearly 3.5bn marks ($2.7bn) for their liberation.

Lavish lifestyle

In its report on his death, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle notes that "during the height of the Cold War in the late 50s, Vogel was the only point man" between West and East Germany because the two states denied having any official contacts at the time.

Vogel was one of the most mysterious figures of the Cold War, the BBC's Paul Legg writes.

He hardly seemed a typical communist apparatchik: with his English-style suits, gold Mercedes car and lakeside villa, Vogel was also handsomely rewarded by the West for his unique role in brokering the exchanges.




SEE ALSO
Profile: Natan Sharansky
02 May 05 |  Middle East
Timeline: Germany
08 Jul 08 |  Country profiles

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