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Thursday, 2 December, 1999, 17:55 GMT
Probe into Kohl's secret funds
Kohl speaking Kohl is still remembered as the architect of German unification

The German parliament has launched a formal probe into secret party accounts run by former chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Mr Kohl's own Christian Democrats (CDU) joined other parties in the lower house in approving the investigation.

Where did the money come from?
How much was there?
Was this money used to influence political decisions?
Volker Neumann, investiagting committee chairman
A 15-member parliamentary committee is to investigate whether a Dm1m ($530,000) payment by arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber, who is being sought by police, had influenced government policies during Mr Kohl's time as chancellor.

The investigation, which could last for up to two years, will try to establish whether the money was a kickback for an arms sale to Saudi Arabia, the designated head of the investigating committee, Volker Neumann, said Thursday.

It will also establish whether party financing laws were broken, he said.

No full explanation yet

"We have not had a full explanation. Where did the money come from? How much was there? Was this money used to influence political decisions," Mr Neumann said in a television interview on Wednesday

Wolfgang Schaeuble, who took over from Mr Kohl as party chief last year, said the good of the nation had to be put before the good of the party.

Gerhard Schroeder Schroeder: Loss of popularity
"It is in the interest of our democracy to clear this up as quickly and comprehensively as possible," he told parliament during a 90-minute extraordinary debate.

Deputies from Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats and their coalition partner, the Greens, demanded a full disclosure of how Mr Kohl had handled party finances.

'Welcome break'

For Mr Schroeder, the scandal surrounding his rival party is a welcome opportunity tom make up lost ground in the opinion polls.

The chancellor and his party are currently trailing the still popular Mr Kohl and the CDU in opinion polls after several state election losses by the Social Democrats.

On Tuesday, Mr Kohl had admitted that secret payments had been made to his party. But he maintained that funding to his party during his 16 years in power never influenced government decisions.

It is in the interest of our democracy to clear this up as quickly and comprehensively as possible.
Wolfgang Schaeuble, chairman, CDU
"I regret if this led to a lack of transparency and was possibly in contravention of party financing rules," he said.

Mr Kohl said he had used the funds to offer financial support to regional branches of the party.

He rejected charges he had been open to bribes from donors but said he recognised the ensuing doubts over undeclared party finances was damaging to the CDU.

Still influential

Mr Kohl, who will be 70 next April, was chancellor for five terms until his defeat in elections last year by Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder.

He still sits in parliament and remains influential as the CDU's first honorary chairman.

He has kept a low profile in the last year, giving only occasional speeches, but his popularity soared during the recent celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall.

Mr Kohl is still widely celebrated as the chancellor who united East and West Germany in 1990.

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See also:
01 Dec 99 |  Europe
Germany's SPD seeks Kohl probe
30 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Kohl under fire
30 Nov 99 |  Europe
Kohl's statement: 'I reject all allegations'
26 Nov 99 |  Europe
Scandals hit German politics
01 Dec 99 |  Europe
Kohl donations scandal grows

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