German prosecutors said Tuesday they had dropped their probe against Hartmut Hopp, a former doctor from the "Colonia Dignidad" Nazi paedophile sect that was based in a remote compound in the south of Chile, despite the 74-year-old having been convicted in the Latin American country for complicity in the abuse of underage victims.
Hartmut Hopp, 74, was a physician in the notorious group that abused members – adults and children – and was used to torture and "disappear" regime critics during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of general Augusto Pinochet.
Prosecutors in the city of Krefeld said that "after exhausting all promising investigative leads, it was not possible to substantiate a sufficient suspicion under any legal aspect necessary for an indictment."
"The people involved are amazed, their confidence in the German justice has been broken," read a statement from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, an organisation that has been campaigned for justice for those who were abused at the colony.
Hopp was the right-hand man of the late convicted paedophile Paul Schäfer, a former Wehrmacht soldier and lay preacher who in 1961 founded the commune that indoctrinated residents and kept them as virtual slaves.
The scale of the atrocities committed at the fenced-in 13,000-hectare (32,000-acre) mountain commune near the town of Parral, some 350 kilometres (215 miles) south of Santiago, came to light only after the end of Pinochet's regime.
Hopp was convicted in Chile of crimes including complicity in Schäfer's rape and sexual abuse of minors, but in 2011 he fled to Germany before the final court ruling against him could be imposed.
A German court initially upheld the Chilean court's jail term of five years and one day, in a 2017 ruling.
However, that was overturned in September 2018 by a higher court in Düsseldorf, which found that the evidence provided by the Chilean court fell short of that demanded by German justice.
It said it had found no concrete evidence that Hopp, who ran the compound's clinic, had actively aided and abetted the abuses committed by Schaefer, who ran its boarding school.
Now the German prosecutors have said they have ended their own investigation, launched in 2011, that also looked into the 1976 killings of three student activists.
Sect-founder Schäfer had in 1997 faced a series of lawsuits and fled Chile. He was arrested in Argentina in 2005 and convicted in Chile the following year for sexual abuse of children, weapons possession and human rights violations.
He died in a Chilean jail in 2010 at the age of 88 while serving a 20-year sentence.
Germany, for its part, has recognised that it previously "closed its eyes" to the Colonia Dignidad community and the goings-on there.
In 2016, then-foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is now the president, decided to open the archives of Germany's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so that the Chilean Judiciary could continue investigating.
Even after the end of Colonia Dignidad, the German authorities did not show "the necessary determination and transparency to identify those responsible and learn the lessons," he said at the time.