Blow for Kohl as 10 ministers resign

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HELMUT KOHL, the German Chancellor, suffered yet another political embarrassment yesterday, when an entire regional government made of members of his Christian Democrat (CDU) party was forced to resign over alleged irregularities in the way ministers were paid.

Werner Munch, CDU Prime Minister of the east German region of Saxony-Anhalt, and himself a west German, resigned after mounting pressure. The Economics Minister, Horst Rehbreger, resigned on Saturday. The regional audit office had alleged that ministers were overpaid by up to 1m German marks ( pounds 400,000), by overstating their entitlements to extra allowances.

Three west German ministers are accused of illegally enriching themselves by around 200,000 marks apiece. Politicians from west Germany are allowed to bring their east German salaries - 80 per cent of those in the west - up to west German levels. But the ministers stand accused of illegally counting in extra allowances, in order to bump up the figure which they were to be paid.

Mr Munch insisted: 'We have not received a penny more than 100 per cent western salary, such as we are entitled to by law.' He complained of 'poisoned' public discussion of the subject.

The 10-man cabinet resigned yesterday, after a three-hour crisis meeting, 'in solidarity' with the ministers who stood accused. However, the cabinet will continue in office, until a new government is formed.

There has been a long series of corruption scandals in Germany, leading to a string of ministerial resignations. The latest scandal could hardly have come at worse moment for Chancellor Kohl, the CDU leader. His favourite presidential candidate, Steffen Heitmann, was finally forced to drop out of the contest last week, after weeks of growing unease about his ultra-conservative candidacy.

In the words of one commentary: 'Events in this late- November week mean that people are beginning to talk about the downfall of a man who has put his mark on German politics, more than anybody else since Konrad Adenauer (west Germany's first post-war chancellor).'