German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser sacked Arne Schönbohm, the head of the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), with immediate effect from his duties, a spokesperson for the ministry told CNN on Tuesday, after recent media reports alleged he had links with people involved with Russian intelligence services.
“There was no longer any confidence in Schönbohm’s leadership,” the spokesperson told CNN.
In the wake of the “current crisis situation regarding Russian hybrid warfare,” the allegations “have permanently damaged the necessary public trust in the neutrality and impartiality of Schönbohm’s conduct of office as president of Germany’s most important cybersecurity authority,” the spokesman said in a statement.
The accusations “also affected the (interior) minister’s indispensable relationship of trust in the conduct of her office,” the spokesperson added.
“All known allegations will be thoroughly and vigorously investigated and subjected to a detailed evaluation. Until this investigation has been completed, Mr. Schönbohm is, of course, presumed innocent,” the spokesperson concluded.
Schönbohm was the head of the BSI since February 2016.
CNN has reached out to the agency for comment.
Schönbohm hasn’t publicly commented since the allegations of his Russian ties surfaced.
According to reports in German media, he was connected to Russia through his role in the Cyber Security Council of Germany. In 2012, Schönbohm co-founded the organization, which describes itself as politically neutral and advises the private and public sectors on cybersecurity issues. Among its members is a German company that is a subsidiary of a Russian cybersecurity firm founded by a former member of the KGB.
While declining to comment on Schönbohm, the Cyber Security Council’s spokesperson told CNN on Tuesday that the company had “repeatedly warned that Russian actors could exploit weaknesses in German cyber defenses.”
“Our focus in the future will continue to be on strengthening the national security architecture as best we can. This explicitly includes possible further threats from Russia,” the spokesperson added.