Updated: Jun 8, 2020
Getting Summoned by Police is daunting especially if you are living in a foreign land. I share my experience about the incident when I was mistakenly accused of a fraud by German Police and how I proved my innocence.
Those who are reading our blog for the first time, we are Puneet (Software Developer) and Bharti (Post-doc in analytical chemistry), originally from India and living in Germany for more than four years.
After spending an exuberant month in India, we (Puneet and I) returned to Germany on 11th June 2019, to get back to our humdrum life in Germany. We had no clue that coming few days in Germany are going to give us chills. After reaching home in Darmstadt, first thing we did was to check our mailbox. It is traditional in Germany to send any formal or informal communication by post, so you expect a lot of letters when living here. After scanning through leap of letters and advertisement magazines, one letter caught my attention as it looked alien to me. From the envelop it was clear I had never received a letter from this sender before. On the envelop it was written “Polizeipräsidium Darmstadt" (Police headquarters in Darmstadt)” and it was addressed to me.
The letter was entirely in German, part of the letter after loose translation read: “Bharti Kumari living at the address (my address) is accused of fraud which happened on 31st May 2018. Bharti Kumari needs to report in Darmstadt police station on 11 June at 1 pm and meet the investigating officer (officer name). Failing to do so will be considered hindrance to investigation. If found guilty of the charge, will attract criminal punishment of fine worth 20,000€ and/or jail on a non-bailable offense.”
What? I couldn’t comprehend. Which fraud was I being accused of? The letter did not mention any details on the fraud whatsoever and on top of that I was supposed to meet an “investigating officer” earlier TODAY at 1PM and it was already 8.30 PM by then. We rushed to the police station that very minute with my documents, most importantly with my boarding passes, in order to explain to them why I could not come at the scheduled time. On the way to police station, which was just a 5 minute bus ride away from our home, I scanned my life since the day I moved to Germany, searching for a clue where I could have, knowingly or otherwise, broken the law but I could recollect no incident of this sort from my memory. For I have been an honest, law-abiding resident but what If mistakenly I did something, and I do not even remember. With a thousand thoughts in my mind and Puneet by my side, I entered police station and showed the letter and explained the situation to the officer sitting at reception. He told us it is too late now, and we must talk to the investigating officer directly tomorrow morning. I left the police station same as I entered, anxious, nervous and clueless.
We went there again next day but unfortunately, we still could not find that officer but this time we insisted on getting an appointment to avoid multiple useless visits. We got an appointment with him scheduled on 17th June. On the day of my appointment with the officer, before entering police station, me and Puneet thought of multiple scenarios we could be faced with and how we could evade any question that we are not sure of. What came as an utter surprise was that officer told Puneet to wait in the lobby and allowed only me to enter his office. I was really hoping that Puneet would be next to me when officer would tell me details about the fraud and ask me questions regarding it because sometimes when you are alone and nervous, you can blabber something that you were not supposed to. But, in that moment of me accompanying him to his office I heard my father’s voice in my head. I remembered him telling me once that if you have not done anything wrong in your life, haven't hurt anyone purposefully then nothing can harm you. Suddenly, I got my confidence back as I entered his office.
Upon entering, I quickly scanned his office and found it to be in contrast of what I had imagined or seen in movies. It was a big room with a huge window, a medium size plant and some pictures of his family. I figured him to be a gentle fellow through his room set-up. Here is our conversation:
Officer: Do you need water?
Me: No, I have my own water bottle. Thank you for offering though.
Officer: Before I begin, I would like to tell you about your rights. You have mainly four options: a) You can stay silent. b) You can call your lawyer. c) You can deny the charge and investigation will follow. d) You can confess to the charge and plead guilty in court trial.
Me: I understand these options, but can you elaborate on the fraud that you accuse me with?
Officer: Yes, I am coming to that in a moment. First you confirm your details, your name, how long have you been in Germany, where do you work and other general info.
(In next one hour, I told him all these details and reiterated my anxiousness about the details of the fraud)
Officer: So, Ms. Bharti, the case is that a person, resident of Germany has filed a complaint that his credit card was misused by someone. These criminals used his card to book a bus ticket via online bus service, flixbus.com and the police have reasons to believe it was you.
Me (shockingly): I refute these charges entirely. I have a respectable job and a decent income. I have no need to misuse anyone’s credit card. May I know the reason why am I being linked to this case?
Officer: Yes sure, the mobile phone number used in this booking is registered on your name. Have a look at this number, is it yours?
(The number started with digits “0152” and I knew it is from the carrier called Lyca Mobile. In Germany, I carry two numbers, one for general purpose, Internet, calls and text and the other number from Lyca Mobile carrier which I use to make direct calls to India. Since I don’t make frequent direct calls to India, I did not remember the Lyca Mobile number.)
Me: This seems to be a Lyca Mobile number. I have a Lyca sim card that I use to make direct calls to India but I don’t remember my Lyca Mobile number.
Officer: Do you have that sim card with you at the moment?
Me: No, I don't have it at the moment. But it should be at my home.
Officer: Did you give your sim card to anyone?
Me: No, I do not think so.
Officer: Are you sure, if this sim-card is still with you?
Me (after thinking a while): As I said earlier, it should be. But since it has been more than a year I last used my Lyca number, so I am not sure, I would have to go home and confirm if I have this or not.
Officer: May I know, where were you on 31st May 2018?
Me: Officer, you are asking me details of a day about one year ago. I have no idea, where was I on 31st May 2018. Although, I maintain a diary and I can look in it about this day. So, I will let you know once I go home.
Officer: OK. Give me these details as you find out. Tell me, how frequently do you travel? Do you have an account on Flix bus? May I see your account activities?
Me: I travel frequently for leisure and for work. I attended four conferences in different locations in 2018. About flix bus account, I do not have this account. My fiancé has it and he books for me from his account.
Officer: OK Ms. Bharti, I am going to read out few names to you. You are going to tell me if you know these people or not?
Me: Yes sure.
(I don't remember the exact names that officer read out to me. I have tried to make-up these names as best as I can. Any similarity or resemblance to actual person, living or dead is purely coincidental.)
Officer: Omar Abbas, khalil Al-ahmed, Maqbool, Shaffan Qureshi. Do you know any of them?
Me (irritatingly): No sir, I have not heard these names before in my life. I do not know these people at all. I think there has been some misunderstanding, I have not used anyone’s credit card. About that Lyca number, I will confirm it to you via e-mail once I go home. Can I go home now?
Officer: Yes, but before I let you go, you must sign your statement. I will print the transcript of our conversation and you have to sign it before you leave.
(While he was printing the statement, I quickly managed to message Puneet that everything is ok, and I will be out soon. The thought of him, waiting outside in the lobby for more than two hours and still clueless would worry him about me and eventually worried me even more.)
Officer: Here is the statement that you must sign. Now, according to German law only German language documents are legally binding hence, I had to print it in German.
(I knew that my German was not good so I was definitely not in a position to sign any document, so after thinking a while)
Me: I am sorry, I can not sign anything I do not understand. Please call my fiancé, Puneet, he is sitting outside and he will help me in understanding what is written.
Officer: I am afraid I cannot allow that. It violates our protocol. Period.
(Then he gave me that expression like that he is confined within rules and doesn't have any other option to offer me.)
Me (my brain neurons thinking at its best): I demand for an official translator.
Officer: That is possible, but on a prior appointment and I must tell you that this can take weeks to months and further complicate and delay the case. Also, the translator has to be from Police department, so if you have trust issues, how will you trust any other officer if you can not trust me? I assure you it contains only the things we have talked about.
Me (processing the situation and realizing that I have actually no option): OK, just give me 10 minutes, I will read it once with the help of Google Translate and sign it if everything is right.
(Fortunately google translate did an excellent job and the words which it didn't understand, I looked them up in the dictionary.)
I pointed out couple of minor digressions in the statement which he corrected promptly. I signed it and came out. Puneet was waiting for me in the reception area, I hugged him, told him everything and suddenly we both felt relaxed. But this relaxation was also short-lived as we will shortly know.
We reached home and first thing I did was to search my diary for my activities on May 31st, the date of fraud. I found out that it was a public holiday in Germany on May 31st, 2018 on account of “Corpus Christi”. My professor had invited the whole group for a barbecue on that day, but I had declined as I wanted to stay home. From my diary, I also noted the exact dates of my travel in 2018 in order to send this information to the officer. Then, I searched my Lyca sim card but to my surprise, my Lyca number did not match with the number that Police officer gave me. This raised further questions in my head. How come the number that officer gave me was registered in my name? Could it be that someone has used my ID to register a fake number in my name? I remember I lost my wallet in 2018, someone could have easily used my ID. While I was still wondering about all these possibilities, Puneet tried dialing the number that officer gave me. What was baffling to us both was this number was also present in our call history. We clearly had link to this number somehow, but we just couldn’t narrow it out how? Then suddenly I remembered that in February 2019, my cousin visited me in Germany and for her I purchased a Lyca number registered in my name. Since, I registered for this number only in February 2019, but the fraud happened in May 2018, it became all clear that this number belonged to the perpetrators of the crime in 2018 and coincidentally I got the same number in 2019. I emailed this entire information to the investigating officer the same day.
One month later, I received another letter from “Darmstadt Polizei” stating my clearance from the charge. I felt fortunate that it got sorted out in time and I did not have to go to court at all.
From this incident, I learned that It is always a good idea to maintain a record of yourself (we advise to maintain a diary). Logging important information is good for example about travelling dates, important bills, about any interesting activity you did on a day. The most important thing in this age of information technology is being very cautious when buying digital personalised products, like mobile phones, sim-cards, laptop especially when you are registering them with your ID. You never know when such things come in handy like it did for me in “My Encounter with German Police”. In the end, I was very impressed by the German Police, they maintained a high level of courtesy and professionalism in handling the scenario.