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Germany Opens Criminal Probe Over Angela Merkel Phone Tapping

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Berlin: Germany’s federal prosecutors said on Wednesday that they had opened an investigation over alleged snooping on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone by the US National Security Agency in a case that has soured relations.

The long-anticipated probe, which follows an explosive allegation last year that US spies had eavesdropped on Merkel’s mobile phone conversations in the past, is against persons unknown, chief federal prosecutor Harald Range said.

“I informed parliament’s legal affairs committee that I have started a preliminary investigation over tapping of a mobile phone of the chancellor,” he said after addressing the committee.

However, in a move that was condemned by opposition and Social Democrat lawmakers, he added that he had decided against opening an investigation into claims of wider NSA surveillance against German citizens.

The latest move may again strain ties between Washington and its key European ally, Germany, which both countries’ leaders have been at pains to restore following the reports.

The claims embarrassed US President Barack Obama and led Merkel to comment that spying between friends is “just not done”.

Her spokesman declined to comment directly Wednesday saying the federal prosecutor had taken the decision “according to the letter of the law”.

The government had no right to influence, nor did it exert influence, in the discussion over whether to launch the probe, Steffen Seibert told reporters.

US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said German concerns over the alleged US tapping of Merkel’s cellphone were best dealt with through diplomatic channels.

The issue had been raised directly with the German government. “So I think that’s probably the most appropriate venue.”

Harf said she did not have any information on whether the United States would cooperate with the German federal prosecutors’ investigation.

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