Spy chief linked to Kohl scandal faces trial

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The Independent Online

Germany was preparing for new revelations yesterday about corruption in the government of its former conservative Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, after France disclosed it was ready to extradite a former German secret service chief charged in a political bribery scandal.

Germany was preparing for new revelations yesterday about corruption in the government of its former conservative Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, after France disclosed it was ready to extradite a former German secret service chief charged in a political bribery scandal.

Holger Pfahls, 62, a former German defence ministry secretary and an ex-head of the German equivalent of M15, is charged with accepting the equivalent of more than £1m bribes for helping to advance the sale of German Fuchs tanks to Saudi Arabia during the 1990s.

He disappeared without trace in 1999 and spent five years on the run from the German authorities before he was caught and arrested in Paris in July last year.

Since then, legal wrangling in the French courts has prevented his extradition.

However yesterday lawyers in France and Germany confirmed that all legal barriers had been cleared and Mr Pfahls extradition was imminent.

Mr Pfahls was a key figure in the illicit party funding scandal that disgraced former Chancellor Helmut Kohl five years ago. Billed as"Germany's most wanted man", there were reported sightings of him in China, Indonesia and South Africa during his years as a fugitive. However recent evidence suggests that he may have lived undetected in Paris for most of his perceived absence.

In Germany state prosecutors have charged Mr Pfahls with accepting the equivalent of £1.3m in bribes from Karlheinz Schreiber - a fugitive German weapons dealer who now lives in Canada - for negotiating the sale of 36 German tanks to Saudi Arabia. Mr Pfahls' lawyers said yesterday that he could expect to stand trial in Germany in March this year.

However Mr Pfahls' return to Germany will also focus attention on the role he played in the conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) party slush fund scandal which disgraced Germany's "Unification Chancellor" Helmut Kohl in late 1999.

The affair revealed the existence of a web of secret donors who illicitly funded the Christian Democrats with millions in clandestine donations. Mr Kohl, who admitted accepting the equivalent of £750,000 on behalf of the CDU, was forced to resign as party chairman.

Mr Kohl has doggedly refused to name the donors ever since. However there has been speculation in Germany that as a former top Christian Democrat insider, Mr Pfahls could do so if offered a lenient sentence for his crimes.

Mr Pfahls is also thought to have key inside information about the Kohl government's controversial 1994 decision to sell the giant state owned east German Leuna oil refinery and a network of petrol stations to the French oil concern, Elf Aquitaine.

It was alleged that, as part of the deal, the late French president, Francois Mitterrand sanctioned a payment of the equivalent of £10 m to Mr Kohl's Christian Democrats to help the party win Germany's 1994 general election. The cash was said to have been included in the £28m paid by Elf Aquitaine to secure the Leuna refinery.

The Leuna allegations have never been proven. However Mr Pfahls played an important role in the transaction and could shed light on its workings.

Senior members of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government have called for the inquiry on the Kohl affair be reopened to enable it to hear evidence from Mr Pfahls.

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