German Authorities Investigating Sexual Assault Claim Against Director Dieter Wedel

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Dieter Wedel

Four more women have accused the German director of harassment and sexual assault, including rape.

Munich city prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation into one of several sexual assault allegations against German director Dieter Wedel. One of Germany's most successful and best-known television and theater directors, Wedel has come under fire in recent weeks as several actresses have come forward, accusing him.

The majority of the cases dates back to the early 1990s, and the statute of limitations for sexual assault, typically 20 years in Germany, has expired. But one case, involving an alleged assault in 1996, is still prosecutable as the alleged victim was 27 years old and, thanks to a recent change in German law, the 20-year statute only begins to take effect after the victim has turned 30. Under that law, authorities have until 2019 to prosecute. The actress accuses Wedel, 75, of trying to rape her in a Munich hotel room.

Four more women have come forward this week to accuse Wedel of sexual harassment and assault. In a report in Die Zeit magazine, Swiss actress Esther Gemsch claims the German director tried to rape her in 1980. Gemsch, who was starring in a TV series Wedel was directing, said he assaulted her in his hotel room, strangling her with a scarf and slamming her head against the wall while trying to force himself inside her. Alongside Gemsch's sworn statement, Die Zeit produced medical records showing the actress received treatment for damage to her head and neck that doctors described as "clearly the result of the violent acts of December 12, 1980."

Gemsch was unable to continue working on the series, but the actress who replaced her, Ute Christensen, told Die Zeit that Wedel also harassed her. After she refused to visit him in his hotel room, Christensen says, Wedel repeatedly humiliated her and verbally abused her on set. The actress, who was pregnant at the time, suffered a nervous breakdown and lost the baby.

Many of the details of both cases are backed up by production reports from German public channel SR that was bankrolling the series. Both actresses made formal complaints against Wedel, but the channel and the production company, the now defunct Telefilm Star, did not remove him from the shoot. The current head of SR, Thomas Kleist, said the channel is investigating the matter and will "reveal everything so that we can unsparingly investigate the matter," he told German TV.  

The first allegations against Wedel emerged in a Die Zeit report earlier this year. The director denied the initial allegations but has not commented on more recent allegations. On Monday, Wedel resigned from his post as head of a German theater festival, citing medical problems resulting from the recent media attention.