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Caroline Wyatt reports for BBC News
"Mr Kohl has already admitted breaching the law"
 real 28k

Berlin correspondent Caroline Wyatt
"The inquiry could take several months"
 real 28k

Monday, 3 January, 2000, 18:22 GMT
Cash scandal threatens Kohl legacy

Helmut Kohl arrives at a CDU meeting Mr Kohl has already admitted breaking the law

Prosecutors in Germany have opened a criminal investigation into whether to charge former Chancellor Helmut Kohl with breach of trust over his handling of secret donations to his party.

The inquiry, which is expected to take a number of months, threatens to destroy the former Chancellor's reputation as one of Europe's leading elder statesmen.

Mr Kohl - the architect of German unification - has admitted failing to declare cash donations of more than $500,000 to the Christian Democratic Union party.

In 30 years' time there will be hundreds of streets and squares named after Helmut Kohl
Wolfgang Schaeuble
State prosecutors are now considering whether to file charges against Mr Kohl, who is also accused of breaking the law by refusing to name the donors concerned.

If charged, he could face a massive fine or up to five years in jail.

Furthermore, Germany's governing Greens and Social Democrats are calling for the investigation to extend to the opposition Christian Democratic Party's new leadership in a move that could engulf it in the scandal.

Commentators - including Germany's most influential newspaper Der Speigel - are asking whether the Christian Democrats can survive any further revelations.

Wolfgang Schaeuble Wolfgang Schaeuble: Under suspicion
The scandal threatens the man who took over the CDU party from Mr Kohl, Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Mr Schaeuble is said to have known about an illicit DM1.1m ($565,000) cash transfer from the CDU parliamentary faction, headed by Mr Schaeuble himself, to CDU party headquarters in 1997.

Mr Kohl has already admitted breaking the law by taking DM2m ($1.03m) in secret cash donations between 1993 and 1998.

Secret donations to political parties are illegal in Germany.

Revised accounts

Racing to meet a 31 December deadline, the CDU on Friday submitted a revised annual report that included the previously unreported donations that Mr Kohl has recently admitted accepting.

The law allows parties to adjust their accounts within a one-year grace period.

The party said it had found some DM2.43m ($1.25m) in funds of "unknown origin".

Hans Georg Wagner, a senior member of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats, said it seemed clear from the new annual report that Mr Schaeuble knew about the DM1.1m cash payment the CDU's parliamentary group transferred to CDU party headquarters.

"Schaeuble must have known about it," Mr Wagner told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

"He is obligated to tell us exactly where the money came from and exactly what it was used for."

'Legally correct'

But the CDU's legal adviser Andreas Schmidt said the money came from the monthly DM50 ($26) fee that parliament members paid to the faction.

The transfer of money was handled "completely correctly," he said, adding that no party law had been violated.

The CDU parliamentary faction's financial manager, Joachim Hoerster, told Welt am Sonntag that the transfer was his suggestion and the account contained "on the whole" deposits of the membership fees.

But the party faction chairman of the Greens, Rezzo Schlauch, told the newspaper he doubted that so much money would have come from membership fees.

Mr Schaeuble said in an interview with Welt am Sonntag that he was confident prosecutors would not find evidence to charge Mr Kohl, and that the legacy of the chancellor would not be destroyed.

"In 30 years' time, there will be hundreds of streets and squares named after Helmut Kohl," he declared.

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See also:
04 Jan 00 |  Europe
Kohl's mark on history
04 Jan 00 |  Europe
Kohl scandal: The story so far
30 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Kohl under fire
30 Nov 99 |  Europe
Kohl's statement: 'I reject all allegations'
29 Dec 99 |  Europe
Kohl faces funding probe
22 Dec 99 |  Europe
CDU demands Kohl reveals donors
16 Dec 99 |  Europe
Kohl must wait to testify
30 Nov 99 |  Europe
Kohl donations scandal grows

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