Pressure grows on Kohl over his slush funds

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The Independent Online
HELMUT KOHL was under mounting pressure yesterday even from within his party to make a clean breast about the slush funds he ran when he was Chancellor of Germany.

After his startling admission on Tuesday that he had hidden party donations in secret accounts, Mr Kohl vanished from public view, pursued by questions. "This must be cleared up," said Heiner Geissler, the Christian Democrats' former general manager. "The party cannot be led as though it were the property of a single person."

Mr Geissler has been the ex-chancellor's sworn enemy ever since he was dumped by Mr Kohl after a failed palace coup. It was his revelation last week that forced Mr Kohl to confess to the secret accounts.

But criticism is not confined to the ex-chancellor's political foes. Peter Muller, the Christian Democrat Prime Minister of Saarland, added his voice yesterday to the chorus of party grandees demanding facts.

The parliamentary investigators trying to trace the missing millions are also unimpressed with Mr Kohl's explanation.

"Kohl is only admitting what had come out already, and left the decisive questions unanswered," said Volker Neumann, the Social Democrat head of the committee of inquiry. "The facts must be laid on the table," said Chancellor Gerhard Schroder.

The most pressing questions are: how much money was involved, where did it come from, and where did it end up. Mr Kohl half-answered the latter, suggesting he dished out wads of cash to regional and local party organisations. It is assumed this bought the loyalty of his political constituents.

An audit is said to have established that the hidden accounts contained up to three million marks, about pounds 1m. The origin of this money, not reported to the party leadership, and concealed from the books and the state, remains shrouded in mystery.

Whether it was an arms manufacturer who donated the on million marks in a suitcase has yet to be proven. But half the 440m marks for the sale of armoured cars to Saudi Arabia was said to have been bribes.

The magazine Stern today says Mr Kohl's junior partners, the Free Democrats, were key players in the decision to allow that sale to go ahead. But Hans- Dietrich Genscher, the former foreign minister, and Jurgen Mollemann, the economics minister of the day, deny their party received a donation from the company concerned.

As the investigation gets under way, Germany's main opposition party faces financial ruin. Political donations constitute only a small part of the Christian Democrats' budget. Most comes from membership dues and state subsidies allocated in proportion with votes gained in elections.

Mr Kohl's creative book-keeping may yet cause the party a punitive fine which could exceed 30m marks, which would severely impair the ability of the Christian Democrats to fight elections.