'I was a Swapo informant'

NIMT suspect flaunts struggle credentials

17 June 2019 | Justice

Namibian Institute of Mining and Technology (NIMT) double murder suspect Ernst Joseph Lichtenstrasser, who claims he gathered information for Swapo during the liberation struggle, has insisted he is innocent.

He claims he only confessed to the killings because the police had threatened to arrest his wife, after “intensive questioning”.

Lichtenstrasser is charged with the execution-style shootings of NIMT CEO Eckhart Mueller and his deputy Heimo Hellwig in April in front of the training centre in Arandis.

He repeatedly referred to his time as a PLAN fighter, but maintained that had never participated in a battle and rather gathered information to “bring about the downfall of the apartheid regime”.

He insisted that he was innocent last week during a court appearance at the Swakopmund Magistrate's Court, where he formally applied for bail.

Evidence has also been produced in court that the spent cartridges found at the NIMT murder scene may have come from the same firearm used at a shooting range in the Tsumeb district, which Lichtenstrasser visited just before the killings.

“It was not me,” he testified.

The 58-year-old native Austrian was under heavy police guard.

The suspect said he came to Namibia before independence and disapproved of the then apartheid system, which is why he had become a freedom fighter and currently enjoys veteran status.

In addition, he successfully completed an apprenticeship at a vocational training centre in Stetten, Austria and therefore worked “well over ten years” as a teacher at NIMT in Tsumeb.

A petition signed by 2 000 people was read out to court officials by Arandis mayor Risto Kapenda at the entrance of the building before the proceedings got underway. The petition demanded that Lichtenstrasser be refused bail.

Lichtenstrasser maintained that although he had made a confession and admitted the murders, he had done so because of police threats that his wife would be arrested.

“I wanted to protect my wife and therefore confessed to the murders,” he said.

He claimed further he had admitted to the version of events presented to him by the police.

Lichtenstrasser testified after state prosecutor Antonia Verhoef presented five reasons why he should remain in custody.

These included that Lichtenstrasser is a flight risk and that it was neither in the interest of justice nor the public that he be granted bail. “The allegations are very serious,” she said.

Lichtenstrasser's lawyer Trevor Brockerhoff led his evidence.

The suspect admitted he was part of a NIMT concerned group that questioned management and Mueller's leadership.

He said all the group members had “strife” with Mueller, and not only him.

Although he denied the allegations, Lichtenstrasser admitted he was in the vicinity of Arandis “somewhere in the desert” on 15 April.

He said he had a quarrel with his wife in Tsumeb the previous day and told her he was going to “Jason”, a former NIMT employee who currently resides in Swakopmund.

He rummaged through the safe and packed a .38 Special revolver and ammunition, and then proceeded south.

Due to pain in his shoulder he took strong painkillers along the way and “somewhere between Usakos and Arandis” he stopped and slept next to the road due to “fatigue and confusion”.

“I woke up confused on Monday (the day of the murders) and for safety reasons I drove a little further into the desert, where I fell asleep again,” he said.

On the Tuesday he decided to drive back to Tsumeb. During the trip he had heard about the killings on the radio and was arrested in Karibib. The bail hearing continues.

Erwin Leuschner