2 men convicted of theft in 1st trials over Cologne crimes

BERLIN -- Two men were convicted of theft and given suspended sentences Wednesday in the first trials for New Year's Eve crimes in the German city of Cologne.

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A third suspect was convicted under juvenile law and put on probation.

The spate of thefts and assaults on women near Cologne's main station, blamed largely on foreigners, caused public uproar as Germany faces a huge influx of migrants. More than 1,000 criminal complaints were filed, over 400 of those alleging sexual crimes.

Neither of Wednesday's trials involved allegations of sexual assaults. Names were not released in accordance with German privacy laws.

The Cologne district court handed a 23-year-old Moroccan asylum-seeker a six-month suspended sentence and a 100-euro ($110) fine for stealing a cellphone from a woman as she photographed the city's cathedral and for possessing drugs.

In a separate trial, a 22-year-old Tunisian was given a three-month suspended sentence for theft. The court found he distracted a man on a bridge near Cologne's main station while his 18-year-old Moroccan co-defendant stole a bag containing a camera.

The younger man, who the court said also committed three thefts nearly a year ago, was convicted and put on probation for two years. Both will have to do 60 hours' community work.

In the first trial, the Moroccan apologized to the victim. The 20-year-old woman didn't immediately see who had stolen the phone but caught him after an Afghan refugee who had witnessed the theft pointed him out to her.

The court stressed that the future of the man's asylum application wasn't a matter for Wednesday's proceedings.

Amid outrage over the Cologne crimes, the German government is moving to make it easier to deport criminal foreigners. The changes would mean that even a suspended prison sentence would be grounds for deportation if someone is found guilty of certain crimes -- including bodily harm, sexual assault, violent theft or serial shoplifting.


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