Maassen’s denial of far-right hooligans randomly attacking immigrants rubbed Chancellor Angela Merkel the wrong way and cost him his job.
Angela Merkel's government on Tuesday removed domestic spy chief Hans-Georg Maassen from office, transferring him to a different post to defuse an explosive row over immigration and the far-right that once more rocked the German chancellor's fragile coalition.
"Mr. Maassen will become state secretary in the interior ministry," Merkel and the leaders of her coalition parties announced in a statement after crisis talks.
The face-saving compromise lets Merkel's fourth-term government live to see another day, after her Social Democratic coalition partners had insisted on Maassen's departure as head of the BfV intelligence service, against the wishes of Interior Minister Horst Seehofer from her Bavarian CSU sister party.
Maassen, 55, was at the centre of a heated controversy after he raised doubts about the veracity of reports of far-right hooligans and neo-Nazis randomly attacking immigrants in the eastern city of Chemnitz in late August.
In his senior new role, essentially a promotion, Maassen will not be responsible for supervising the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), the party leaders stressed in their statement.
'Hatred in the streets’
The far-right attacks in Chemnitz, which caused revulsion in Germany, were triggered by the fatal stabbing of a German man over which police are holding a Syrian suspect and searching for an Iraqi man.
Days after the unrest, Maassen questioned the authenticity of amateur video footage showing street violence and voiced doubt that racists had indeed "hunted down" foreigners — comments that directly contradicted Merkel, who had deplored the xenophobic attacks and "hatred in the streets".
SPD leaders — as well as the opposition Greens, Free Democrats and Linke parties — had demanded the resignation or sacking of the spy chief for political meddling, and pointed to his repeated meetings with leaders of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
Talked too much
For a spymaster, Maassen seemed unusually receptive to the media — while secret agents typically work in the shadows, the head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency gave more interviews than any of this predecessors.
As it turned out, it was an interview with Germany's best-selling daily Bild that cost him his job as he challenged the authenticity of at least one of the videos.
For critics, Maassen's claim played into the hands of the AfD party, which immediately seized on the spy chief's assessment to blast Merkel and mainstream media for maligning it and other like-minded protesters.
As pressure mounted on him to prove the video was a fake, Maassen denied questioning its authenticity and said his quarrel was with how the original post on Twitter had oversold it as a "hunt against people" which he thought was intended to inflame tensions.
But the uproar raised questions over Maassen's neutrality, particularly as he has made no secret of his opposition to Merkel's liberal refugee policy that has allowed in more than a million asylum seekers since 2015.