Scandal Tarnishes Kohl Legacy ; the German Parliament Opened an Inquiry Yesterday into Secret Party Accounts

By Kim, Lucian | The Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 1999 | Go to article overview

Scandal Tarnishes Kohl Legacy ; the German Parliament Opened an Inquiry Yesterday into Secret Party Accounts


Kim, Lucian, The Christian Science Monitor


Germany is being buffeted by its biggest political storm in a decade, as respected former chancellor Helmut Kohl this week admitted his role in a scandal involving secret party bank accounts and suitcases stuffed with cash.

Mr. Kohl, a towering figure over German politics during his 16 years in office, oversaw the 1990 unification of Germany and was a powerful force behind the drive for European integration.

But as one Berlin newspaper put it this week, "A monument is crumbling."

Only last month, in ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain, Kohl was feted in Berlin and in Prague, as a guest of Czech President Vclav Havel, along with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former US President George Bush, and ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

On Tuesday, Kohl admitted to controlling "special accounts" while in office that he conceded were "perhaps violations of rules on party financing." But he denied that government policy had been influenced by bribes or kickbacks.

"The facts must be laid on the table," Chancellor Gerhard Schrder, who defeated Kohl in 1998 elections, said in response. The German parliament yesterday launched an investigation into the since-closed secret accounts, focusing on who contributed how much and to what ends.

The scandal crept up on Kohl, now honorary chairman of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and an opposition member of the parliament, from the hills of Bavaria. Investigators were probing allegations of tax evasion concerning a 1991 transfer of more than $500,000. Walther Leisler Kiep, CDU treasurer at the time, accepted a suitcase of cash from arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber and deposited the money into a secret party account. The same year, the Kohl government approved the sale of 36 tanks to Saudi Arabia.

The scandal has thrown the Christian Democrats into disarray. Hoping to avoid a long, grueling investigation, the CDU leadership has called for it to be completed in a speedy and comprehensive manner. It is unclear whether the alleged irregularities in the party's financing could lead to criminal charges, but if proved, they could mean millions of dollars in fines.

The implications of impropriety have put current party leaders under tremendous pressure - not least because they owe their political fortunes to Kohl, who even current party chairman Wolfgang Schuble says managed his party in a "patriarchal style." An independent accounting firm is checking the CDU's books, and Mr. Schuble has said he wants to deliver a first report to the rank- and- file by the middle of the month. …

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