Police investigate German chat show host as cocaine and call-girl scandal deepens

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The Independent Online

Michel Friedman, a respected German-Jewish community leader and prominent television talk show host, is being investigated on suspicion that he offered cocaine to prostitutes, state prosecutors disclosed yesterday.

The latest evidence suggests that Mr Friedman's alleged dealings with a Ukrainian prostitution racket prompted police to investigate him for possession of drugs. Two Ukrainian men and a Pole are currently under arrest on charges of running the call-girl service, which smuggled Ukrainian prostitutes into Germany to cater for well-heeled clients.

The Berlin state prosecutor's office said three Ukrainian prostitutes had testified independently that Mr Friedman, 47, had snorted cocaine during a late-night rendezvous last year in a Berlin hotel room and that he subsequently offered the women the drug.

The disclosure deepened the scandal surrounding the vice-president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, which has 93,000 members. His Watch out, Friedman! television programme rates as one of the country's most controversial, yet popular, chat shows.

Police are already investigating Mr Friedman, who is a member of the conservative Christian democrats (CDU), on suspicion of possessing cocaine. The inquiry has shocked the country's celebrity world and prompted Jewish leaders to rally to his defence.

"I have complete trust in Michel Friedman," said Paul Spiegel, president of the Central Council of Jews. "There is nothing to suggest that he has made mistakes which could interfere with his role as deputy leader."

Criminal investigators raided Mr Friedman's Frankfurt apartment last week and discovered traces of cocaine in three small plastic bags. Mr Friedman has agreed to allow a hair sample to be used in a DNA test to establish whether he took the drug. The result is expected later this week.

Mr Friedman has refused to make any comment on the allegations and has cancelled forthcoming television appearances. Witnesses said yesterday that he felt faint after his show last Wednesday when he was informed of the allegations. Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported that he had left for the south of France.

During their year-long investigation into the call-girl racket, police tapped the mobile phones of prostitutes, their pimps and their clients. Their inquiries revealed that Mr Friedman was among a number of wealthy callers.

If convicted, the worst Mr Friedman could expect would be a suspended jail sentence. The damage to his reputation would be immense, though. It would almost certainly end his twin careers as Jewish community leader and chat show host.

Mr Friedman, who was born in Paris, is the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants who escaped the Holocaust with the help of Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist immortalised in Steven Spielberg's Hollywood film.

A qualified lawyer, he moved to Germany in 1988 and rose quickly through the ranks of Berlin's Jewish community before becoming deputy leader of its national organisation two years ago. Meanwhile, his television show has proved a runaway success.

Mr Friedman's combative style and his un-German, dandified appearance have turned him into a hate figure of the far right. He featured in an anti-Semitic campaign leaflet published by Jürgen Möllemann, the liberal Free Democrat politician who plunged to his death during a parachute jump this month after police raided his offices on suspicion of illicit party funding and fraud.

In the leaflet, Mr Friedman was described as "intolerant and ugly" and accused of provoking anti-Semitism through his aggressive television performances. Some media reports have speculated that the cocaine allegations could be an attempt by the far right to smear Mr Friedman.

Other reports yesterday claimed that Mr Friedman was so concerned at the publicity raised by the investigation, and the possibility of more adverse exposure during a trial, that he had sought to have the case against him dropped. His lawyers denied the allegations.

Baerbel Schaefer, a television celebrity who is Mr Friedman's girlfriend, appeared shocked by the allegations yesterday. "I am in such a state that I can't make any comment," she told the mass circulation newspaper Bild.