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German prosecutors close investigation of alleged US tapping of Chancellor Merkel's cellphone

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BERLIN — German prosecutors on Friday closed their investigation into the alleged tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone by the U.S. National Security Agency, saying they have been unable to find evidence that would stand up in court.

Prosecutors last June opened an investigation into the alleged monitoring of a cellphone Merkel used for party business. German magazine Der Spiegel had broken the story in late 2013, citing documents provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

The issue has weighed on relations between Germany and the U.S.

However, chief federal prosecutor Harald Range signaled in December already that the probe wasn't going well, saying that he had found no actionable evidence.

Range's office said Friday it has been unable to get hold of an original document proving the alleged spying, and that a published transcript of an NSA document allows for various interpretations.

PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for the EU-CELAC summit in Brussels on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will continue his diplomatic offensive on Thursday to try to convince European creditors to pay out the bailout loans the country needs to avoid default. (AP Photo/Francois Walschaerts)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for the EU-CELAC summit in Brussels on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will continue his diplomatic offensive on Thursday to try to convince European creditors to pay out the bailout loans the country needs to avoid default. (AP Photo/Francois Walschaerts)

"The documents published in the media so far that come from Edward Snowden also contain no evidence of surveillance of the cellphone used by the chancellor solid enough for a court," it said in a statement.

Prosecutors said they see no prospect of success in continuing to investigate. They noted that journalists involved in publishing Snowden's documents are entitled to refuse testimony, and argued that public statements by Snowden give no indication that he has personal knowledge of the surveillance of Merkel's phone.

"The vague comments by U.S. officials about possible surveillance of the chancellor's mobile telecommunication by a U.S. intelligence service — 'not any more' — are not enough to describe what happened," they added.

"The comments, which were viewed in public as a general admission of guilt, do not discharge us from (fulfilling) the burden of proof according to the requirements of criminal procedure."

Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, declined to comment on the prosecutors' decision, but said the chancellor had always stressed that her concern wasn't restricted to the tapping of her own cellphone and extended to surveillance of Germans in general.

Seibert said the government would continue to raise the issue of balancing security and privacy with partners, including the United States.


Frank Jordans contributed to this report.

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