German politics acquires sleazy tinge

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at
Mon Jan 24 06:54:45 PST 2000

23 January 2000 German politics acquires sleazy tinge By Ritu Gurha BERLIN: Bonn, it seems, is undergoing a painful dismantling. Even the most nationalistic of Germans is turning distinctly apologetic. The suicide of a senior accountant of the Christian Democratic Union gives a macabre twist to German politics. As the German parliament opened a full-scale investigation Thursday into the murky financial dealings of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his band of loyalists, fresh reports of money laundering, illegal slush funds and possible bribery are increasing the deep sense of disillusionment among Germans. A nation-wide poll released Friday showed the CDU had sagged to 36 percent, four behind Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats. Only two months ago, the CDU had a 45-32 percent poll lead over the SPD. Kohl turned defiant, repeating that he could not break his word of honour, even as the present party chief, Schaeuble, a former Kohl protege, regretted having deceived the legislature about his own role in accepting an illegal $52,000 contribution from a shadowy arms dealer. Younger Turks of CDU are outraged by Kohl's stance and cannot afford to let the anachronistic values of honour undermine the values of transparency, accountability and openness. Kohl who has lost his stature as a revered statesman, refuses to reveal the identity of the secret donors, leaving Christian Democrat reputations open to speculation. To make matters worse, confused explanations this week attributing some of the money found overseas to contributions by Jews have further worsened the party's plight, with accusations of anti-Semitism. The party even apologised ``to our Jewish compatriots.'' While Kohl insists that the money was used by CDU to prevent resurgence of communists in unified Germany, Social Democrats are not mincing words. They point to the tight links between Christian Democrats and business. Some analysts are even going as far as to say that the disarray might unravel Germany's normally tight-knit political system -marked by cozy arrangements between banks, industry and political parties. Ernst and Young, the independent auditors hired by CDU, are busy unravelling shadowy ongoings, even though the CDU could face huge fines under Germany's political funding laws. The former chancellor apparently also faces a separate criminal investigation for breach of trust that, if it leads to conviction, would carry a maximum five-year jail sentence. Meanwhile, an 11-member committee, led by the governing alliance of Social Democrats and Greens, will examine whether the secret funds diverted to the CDU coffers were actually bribes or kickbacks linked to favourable actions taken by governments under Kohl. Volker Neumann, a Social Democratic member of Parliament who will serve as chairman of the inquiry, has said the probe will inquire into the 1992 sale of the Leuna oil refinery and a chain of gasoline stations in eastern Germany to the French company, Elf-Aquitaine, which was then state-owned. At least $40 million from the sale remains unaccounted for. A second area of inquiry concerns the sale of tanks to Saudi Arabia and aircraft to Canada that involved a German-Canadian arms dealer, Karlheinz Schreiber who is now fighting extradition from Canada. The probe will also include the suspected laundering of funds for the Christian Democrats through banks in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The probe has already claimed two casualties: Manfred Kanther, who served as interior minister under Kohl and Huerland-Buening, a former senior defence ministry official. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service
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