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German girl band star Nadja Benaissa: my HIV recklessness

A singer who transformed herself from a teenage crack addict to become the star of one of Germany's most popular girl bands broke down in court yesterday as she admitted to having unprotected sex despite knowing that she was HIV positive.

Nadja Benaissa, who rose to fame with the pop group No Angels, was charged last year with one count of grievous bodily harm for allegedly infecting her partner with the HIV virus in 2004. She faces two further charges of attempted bodily harm for having unprotected sex with two other men who did not catch the HIV virus.

Dressed in a purple blouse with her hair swept back in a ponytail, Benaissa appeared in a court in Darmstadt, near Frankfurt, yesterday for the start of a five-day trial which could see her face up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

She broke down as her lawyer, Oliver Wallasch, read out a statement in which she admitted to having unprotected sex despite knowing she was infected. “I am sorry from the bottom of my heart,” the statement read.

“No way did I want my partner to be infected.”

The case has received widespread press interest in Germany and has caused concern among Aids campaigners who have criticised the way the 28-year-old singer has been treated by both the police and media.

Benaissa, whose band has sold more than five million records, was arrested in Frankfurt last year just hours before she was due to perform a concert at a nightclub. She was led away in front of her fans and incarcerated for 10 days prompting criticism from HIV campaign groups who said the singer had been subjected to a public “witch-hunt”.

Under German law, failing to disclose being HIV positive before having unprotected sex with a partner is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The tariff can be extended to life if the person goes on to die of Aids.

Benaissa, who is of Moroccan and Roma descent with German citizenship, is accused of having had sex with three men between 2000 and 2004 without informing them of her condition. The trial is taking place in a juvenile court because the first alleged offences took place when she was 17.

In the courtroom yesterday the singer came face to face with her primary accuser, a 34-year-old man who is HIV positive. His identity has been kept secret for the trial.

In her opening statement, Benaissa gave an insight into how she had led a troubled life as a teenager which led to her becoming HIV positive.

Following a routine blood test, she discovered that she was HIV positive but said she did not know who had infected her.

She told the court that she kept her condition secret because she was initially scared of her daughter being stigmatised.

“I'd been told the likelihood of infecting someone or that I would develop the illness [Aids] was more or less zero,” she added.

Over the coming five days the court is expected to hear from the two other men with whom Benaissa is accused of having unprotected sex.

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