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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 18:28 GMT
Ex-CDU head off the hook
Wolfgang Schaeuble and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
Mr Schaeuble could run for Chancellor Schroeder's job
Prosecutors in Germany have dropped an investigation into alleged perjury by the former leader of the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU), Wolfgang Schaeuble.

As things stand, the conviction of Dr Schaeuble for perjury is no longer likely

Berlin prosecutor
The decision clears the path for Mr Schaeuble - who stepped down as the leader of the CDU last year when the party was gripped by a slush-fund scandal - to join the list of potential CDU candidates for Chancellor in 2002.

Mr Schaeuble stood accused of lying about the handling of a campaign donation, following contradictory statements made by himself and former party treasurer Brigitte Baumeister.

Mr Schaeuble had said that he received DM100,000 ($46,000) from an arms lobbyist in September 1994 and gave it to Ms Baumeister to record in the party's accounts.

Ms Baumeister contended that it was she who had received the money, which she then handed over to Mr Schaeuble.

The money was never entered into the books, contravening party finance law.

The Berlin prosecutor began investigating in May last year, but concluded on Thursday that there was not enough evidence to pursue the case against either Mr Schaeuble or Ms Baumeister in court.

Charges against former Chancellor Helmut Kohl have also been dropped.

Second chance

Mr Schaeuble took over as party leader from Helmut Kohl after the CDU lost the 1998 elections to Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD).

The scandal erupted when Mr Kohl admitted receiving $1m in secret donations which were never properly accounted for.

CDU leader Angela Merkel
Some feel Ms Merkel is not a strong enough choice
Mr Schaeuble's own admission that he received the money and allegations that he had misled parliament about the event forced his resignation as party leader early last year.

But Thursday's decision has given even greater impetus to those senior German conservatives who believe Mr Schaeuble could reverse the ailing fortunes of the CDU, whose public support has spiralled downwards since the funding scandal started to unfold.

Earlier this month, the CDU suffered their worst result in Berlin for more than half a century, and analysts predicted that changes at the level of national leadership were likely to follow.

Some members of the CDU believe that Angela Merkel, who took over as party leader after Schaeuble stood down, is too weak a candidate for chancellor.

Meanwhile the other possibility, Bavarian premier and arch-conservative Edmund Stoiber, appears uneasy about running.

The issue of candidates for next year's general election could feature on the agenda of Friday's CDU party conference in Dresden.

But some of the German media says Mr Schaeuble's name will remain associated with the slush-funding scandal.

"Even though the investigation into perjury has now been called off, a bitter aftertaste remains," commented the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

See also:

16 Feb 00 | Europe
Profile: Wolfgang Schaeuble
30 Jun 00 | Europe
Anger in wake of Kohl hearing
18 Jan 00 | Europe
Kohl's mark on history
19 Jul 00 | Europe
Fresh blow for Germany's CDU
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