German party: Millions more were held in secret bank accounts

Posted: Thursday, January 27, 2000

BERLIN (AP) - The sum of secret campaign funds involved in the scandal around Germany's Christian Democrats grew dramatically today, after a state party branch said it had diverted more than twice as much money than previously known to Swiss bank accounts.

The revelation by Roland Koch, governor of Hesse, focused the German conservatives' scandal even more on the southern state and the money it sent abroad - apparently to avoid tougher German party finance laws in the 1980s.

Koch said at a news conference in Wiesbaden that the party had diverted more than $9.5 million to Swiss bank accounts in 1983 - more than twice the roughly $4 million previously known.

Between 1986 and 1997, Koch said $4.25 million was taken from the secret accounts. It is not known where that money is now, he said.

Federal lawmakers decided today that former Chancellor Helmut Kohl won't be called anytime soon to testify before a parliamentary investigating committee. The head of the committee even raised the possibility Kohl may never get to testify about whether secret donations led to influence peddling in his government.

``So long as Helmut Kohl isn't ready to reveal the origin of money that went into secret accounts, we see no reason to hear him,'' Volker Neumann, the Social Democrat lawmaker who chairs the parliament committee, told Phoenix television.

``It is quite possible that we will get at the information about who gave (Kohl) the money from others,'' he said.

Kohl has refused the demands of those within his own party to say who gave the Christian Democrats up to $1 million in off-the-books money he has admitted receiving. His pledge to remain silent on the issue has fueled suspicions the secret donations were to buy favors during his 16 years in power that ended with his election defeat in 1998.

The Christian Democrats criticized the decision not to call Kohl as one of the committee's first witnesses, saying it proved the investigation was nothing more than a partisan witch hunt.

``Their aim is obvious - to misuse the investigating committee as a tribunal against the Christian Democrats,'' said Andreas Schmidt, the senior Christian Democrat lawmaker on the committee.

The conservatives had suggested Kohl and other senior members of his government be called first to testify, and Kohl himself has demanded to be heard as soon as possible.

The committee today approved a schedule of nine witnesses it will call in the coming months, beginning March 16 with Horst Weyrauch, a former tax adviser to the Christian Democrats and allegedly the key person overseeing secret money flowing into the party under Kohl.

The Greens party, the junior partner in the governing coalition, called on the Christian Democrats to take the issue into their own hands and move forward with legal action against Kohl to compel him to reveal the names.

``As long as they fail to do that, they hinder the clearing up,'' lawmakers Hans-Christian Stroebele and Claudia Roth, both members of the investigating committee, said in a statement.

Earlier this week, the Christian Democrats said they would not take any legal steps to compel Kohl to name names, at least for now.

The parliament committee also added to its witness list several people connected to the Leuna refinery privatization deal that has come under scrutiny in the probe.

Koch, the governor of Hesse, said the new money transfers discovered in the continuing investigation helped explain why so much more money was in the Swiss bank accounts than previously known. Despite withdrawals that add up to more than $10 million, there was still $8.5 million in the accounts.

The Social Democrat party in Hesse state said the new disclosures showed the ``mafiosi'' structure of the Christian Democrats.

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