A BOASTFUL and unusually “aggressive” trainer at the Namibian Institute of Mining and Technology (NIMT) in Arandis, the 57-year-old Josef Lichtenstrasser, who sells himself off as a Swapo-veteran, as well as East German Special Forces operator, veteran of Mozambique civil war, former soldier and military advisor to the People’s Liberation Army (Plan), drew attention to himself as person of interest after the assassination of Eckhart Mueller and his deputy, Heimo Hellwig, with a picture of himself displaying obscene gestures taken in a NIMT offices.
Lichtenstrasser’s actions and behaviour 48-hours before the Arandis assassination and a missing persons report by his wife over the weekend preceding the shooting, however, focused the spotlight even brighter on him and his career of controversy and confrontation.
A second person of interest, a correctional officer, ‘Jerrusalem’ of Tsumeb, whose Facebook page reveals an egomaniac and self-publicist with ambitions on the day of the Mueller/Hellwig-slaying to pass himself off to gullible social media users as a prophet on the day of the assassination, was “also a person of interest,” but was released after during interrogation he confessed that his message of an impending bloodbath was a fraud.
He was released after confessing that he insensitively – after the news of the Arandis assassination tragedy shocked the Namibian society – had designed a prophecy on the NIMT killing in an effort to promote himself.
On the day of the killing, the officer went to an old Facebook post and edited it to look as though he foresaw the tragedy in minute detail a year before.
Prison management is still considering a disciplinary hearing for bringing the institution of the correctional facilities into disrepute.
Police, however, remain interested in Lichtenstrasser after a chain of events and a past of violence and brushes with the law since the 1989 UN-supervised elections, where he first got publicity as a Swapo Youth League (SPYL) member who was attacked by NUDO supporters at Okakarara.
Pictures of an injured Lichtenstrasser were distributed by various media houses all over the world to expose political violence under the UN supervised elections.
At the time, a youthful Lichtenstrasser made it to the front page of the then pro-Swapo Namibian newspaper.
Lichtenstrasser also moved up silently on the political ladder when he became a heavyweight in the Swapo Union structures and especially the Metal and Allied Workers Union (MAWU) affiliated to the then powerful branch of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) Swapo union.
His technical background brought him from SPYL to NUNW.
He also acted as a labour consultant for union members.
This was, however, not enough for Lichtenstrasser and when he was roped in on Monday evening at Karibib, he was found in possession of a certificate as a Plan-veteran, a discovery that stunned the police and commanders of Plan forces before independence, denying any knowledge of Lichtenstrasser’s role in Plan or any of its operations.
The veteran commanders are now insisting on a corruption investigation into the Plan veteran status and the benefits Lichtenstrasser received, amongst them a monetary reward and a Mahangu field in the north.
“That is nearly as serious a crime as the shooting itself,” one of Namibia’s foremost commanders remarked while denying any possibility that Lichtenstrasser was fighting for Plan or even advising them.
In a missing persons report that was not released on Sunday, his wife reported to the Otjozondjupa police that her husband had disappeared and requested a search for him.
She was extremely anxious when he left the house in Otavi over the weekend as she had observed that he was armed with two pistols.
The police in the meantime confirmed that they apprehended Lichtenstrasser with only one pistol.
On the Saturday preceding the Monday killing spree in Arandis, Lichtenstrasser apparently drove through the farm of former Vice President, Dr Nickey Iyambo, to a friend and neighbour to fire his guns at the shooting range.
The police already have a statement on this incident.
Otjozondjupa Regional Commander, Commissioner Heinrich Tjiveze, confirmed that Lichtenstrasser was reported missing by his common law wife on Monday.
Lichtenstrasser, also known as “Batista”, bragged that his war credentials go back even further than his deployment as a soldier in Plan and that his participation in the liberation war in Mozambique earned him “Batista” as his Nome du Guerre.
He claims that he came to Africa from East Germany as a young man during the Liberation Struggle where he served as a military advisor.
Lichtenstrasser also made the news again during February of 2013 when he was arrested by the Namibian Police on charges of the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, including a cache of nine rifles and a large amount of ammunition that were found buried on the farm Tsaobis in the district of Karibib.
It is alleged that he maintained contact with his Karibib friends and that eventually led to his status as a person of interest.
It was reported that Lichtenstrasser was not on the farm in 2013 when the weapons were discovered on the farm.
He was in fact living in Tsumeb while he worked as an instructor at NIMT.
During a search of his home in Tsumeb at the time, police discovered an explosive device resembling a hand grenade in his car after which he was taken into custody.
Deputy Commissioner Edwin Kanguatjivi, commander of the Police Public Relations Division, confirmed the arrest and incarceration of Lichtenstrasser during 2013.
The inspector general of the Namibian police, Lt-genl. Sebastian Ndeitunga, said although Lichtenstrasser remains extremely aggressive and uncooperative, various other investigations related to corruption and past alleged crimes might follow.
A new investigation into these two cases will be reopened.
Up until his disappearance over the weekend, Lichtenstrasser worked as a fitting and turning instructor at the Tsumeb Campus of NIMT.
He was retrenched along with some other instructors, but was later reinstated by the NIMT management.
He worked for the institute at the Keetmanshoop Campus for a short while and later returned to Tsumeb in the same NIMT capacity where he led a quiet life.
According to some residents of Tsumeb, besides going to work, he was seen regularly at a gymnasium in town.
Financial woes at NIMT largely caused by slow payment of funds by the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) and some other disputes regarding the utilisation of excess tuition fees, forced the top management to retrench some staff.
Some were later reinstated and redeployed.
Several allegations of corruption, nepotism and gross mismanagement were made against the top management of NIMT over the past few months.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) this week cleared NIMT of all charges and said there were administrative errors that the Board of Trustees should correct.
A movement was also started this week calling themselves the “Friends of NIMT” who vow to restore the image of Mueller, Hellwig and the institution that was tarnished by social media and the ‘fake news’ brigade.
Earlier, the President of Namibia, Hage Geingob, described Mueller and Hellwig as exceptional educators whose deaths are a great loss to Namibian training.
It came to light that Mueller, the murdered executive director of NIMT, went to South Africa over the past weekend to attend the funeral of his sister and that no-one outside the top management of the institute knew where he was or when he would return to work.
He did return to Namibia on Sunday and went back to work on Monday morning.
The 72-year-old Mueller, along with the 60-year-old Heimo Hellwig, were gunned down in cold blood early on Monday morning as they approached the administration building of NIMT in Arandis.
Their assailant fired eight shots at his victims from a nine millimetre pistol at close range.
Both victims died on the scene of the shooting.
In the week preceding his murder, the late Mueller had remarked to some of his trusted colleagues that his life might be in danger.
According to Deputy Commissioner Kanguatjivi, Lichtenstrasser was recorded on surveillance cameras in Swakopmund and Usakos while he withdrew money from automatic teller machines over the past weekend.
An image of him buying items at a service station sometime over the weekend also surfaced on social media late on Tuesday evening.
In the meantime, Ndeitunga has ordered the strengthening of the investigation team that involves detectives from the Erongo, Oshikoto and Otjozondjupa regions.