His trial began Monday, but this is not the first time that Mauss has been suspected of putting personal wealth above his country. The man known as "Germany's James Bond" has also been called a double agent — one allegedly loyal only to money.
Born in Essen, Germany, Mauss grew up destitute. A 1997 Los Angeles Times piece recounted that his father, a salesman, died when he was a child, and his mother's shirt factory went bankrupt. Mauss held a variety of odd jobs, from training horses to selling vacuum cleaners door to door. It was not until 1961 that he began marketing himself as a private detective, investigating divorces and insurance claims.
The Los Angeles Times described his rapid success:
During this period, Mauss made a lot of money quickly. He spent lavishly, acquiring a Porsche, a Jaguar, even a Cessna. He specialized in finding stolen luxury cars, developing excellent contacts with both police and criminals. The police would let him use their files because he usually brought back good tips from the crime underworld. And the crime community evidently trusted his discretion.
Mauss had a knack for liaising between law enforcement and criminals, and his reputation grew along with his wealth. German authorities started commissioning him to work on high-profile cases. Mauss's website claims that Horst Herold, then-director of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office, called the investigator "my secret weapon."
Among the operations he has been associated with were the arrest of two notorious police killers and the recovery of a treasure stolen from Cologne Cathedral. In 1976, his website states, he led authorities to capture a suspected member of the Red Army Faction, a far-left militant group, while the suspect was buying a newspaper in Athens.
Mauss often worked undercover, and at one point he refused to testify in the trial of an alleged German jewel thief whom he helped capture because he did not want his identity made public. The alleged thief was acquitted.
Because media attention to the case exposed him, Mauss moved to Colombia in 1984 and served as an operative for German companies. It was there that controversy began to swirl around the spy, who was arrested in 1996 on suspicion of conspiring with the same guerrilla group that had taken his clients' employees hostage.
At the time of his arrest, Mauss was at the airport, attempting to leave Colombia with one of the kidnapping victims.
A 1996 Washington Post article reported:
Documents and files seized from the computer of Werner Mauss [...] show that Mauss and a woman, possibly his wife, were playing an intricate game that allowed them to profit from both sides of Colombia's festering civil conflict. While negotiating the freedom of German hostages held by Colombian guerrillas, and attempting to broke a peace settlement between the guerrillas and the Colombian government, Mauss allegedly helped the guerrillas bargain up ransoms — and his own fat commissions.
People who were close to the investigation told the Los Angeles Times that the kidnappers refused to communicate with anyone other than Mauss.
In 1998, he and his wife were cleared of all charges.
At trial this week, Mauss wore a dark parka with a hood covering the top half of his face. He did not make a statement, the BBC reported. His attorneys argued that he cannot mount "a proper defense" because his previous spy work keeps him bound to confidentiality agreements.
If found guilty, Mauss faces up to 10 years in jail — a bitter outcome for someone who describes himself as "a pioneer in the fight against criminality."