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Germany: Stasi Files Bring New Dimension To Investigation

A new dimension has been added to the investigation into the finances of Germany's former governing party, the Christian Democrats under the leadership of Helmut Kohl. Officials checking the archives of the former East German secret police have found evidence that they tapped the phones of senior CDU officials in the 1970s and 1980s and heard discussions about financial activities. RFE/RL's Roland Eggleston reports.

Munich, 29 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- German authorities have been careful to make clear that reports found in the files of the Stasi -- the former communist east German secret police -- have no direct influence into the present investigation into secret bank accounts maintained by the Christian Democrats or on the personal role of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

But they do suggest that the CDU may have maintained a secret bank account in Switzerland much earlier than previously known.

The reports also show that the conversations monitored by the Stasi involved some of the senior CDU officials and associates of Kohl being questioned in the present investigation. Officials in Berlin told RFE/RL that references to Kohl in the files now released are unclear. Through his lawyers, Kohl has vigorously denied any wrongdoing.

The current investigation covers the period between 1993 and 1998. Kohl has admitted that during those years he received more than $1 million in secret payments from sources which he refuses to identify. The payments, which were not shown in the party accounts, broke the law on the financing of political parties. Prosecutors are investigating whether Kohl also committed a criminal offense by refusing to name those who provided the money.

The Kohl case led to other investigations involving secret accounts maintained by the CDU in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Seven of Kohl's former close associates are under investigation, both by criminal prosecutors and by a committee of the federal parliament in Berlin.

The files now released in Berlin show that the East German Stasi regularly monitored the phone conversations of top West German political figures between 1976 and 1988. At the time they began, Germany was governed by a Social Democratic government led by Helmut Schmidt. Kohl and the Christian Democrats took power in 1982.

The records released this week focus on telephone conversations between top officials of the Christian Democratic party. Many more files remain to be checked, but the Berlin authorities say those that have been read indicate a particular interest in a senior party official, Uwe Luethje, who had special responsibilities regarding party financing. Another frequently mentioned is Walter Leisler Kiep, who was the party treasurer from 1971 to 1992. Kiep is now under a criminal investigation regarding the present financial scandal. Officials in Berlin say the Stasi transcripts and other files on Kiep run to more than 900 pages.

For those investigating the current scandal, some of the most interesting reports in the Stasi files indicate that the CDU maintained secret accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein in the 1970s and 1980s. Allegations about similar accounts in the 1990s are part of the present investigation. The CDU organization in the province of Hesse admitted earlier this year that it transferred at least $9.5 million to Swiss banks in violation of the laws on party financing. This led to a heavy fine on the party, which the CDU is now challenging in the courts.

The question being asked in Berlin is -- how did the communist regime in east Berlin make use of the information obtained by tapping the telephones of these top-level CDU officials? All German commentators have emphasized there is no evidence to indicate that the CDU officials were put under pressure.

The former East German spymaster Markus Wolf said in his memoirs that his organization knew about financial transactions in the CDU but suggested they kept quiet to protect spies in top financial circles in western Germany. The CDU itself has said previously that it believes there was an East German agent somewhere high in the party in the circle around the treasurer Walter Leisler Kiep. They say his Stasi codename was "Lupine" but he has never been identified.

What happens next is unclear. Because the files involve the 1970s and 1980s, they may be untouchable. German law says political parties are only responsible for disclosing their financial affairs over six-year periods. However, other experts say that criminal investigations are not bound by these limits.

The most sought-after witness is the former senior CDU party official Uwe Luethje, whose phone was systematically tapped by the Stasi, according to the records released this week. But Luethje, now 68, is said to be seriously ill and cannot be questioned.

Some political leaders are also unhappy about using material obtained by the Stasi to assist their investigations. The chief representative of the Greens party in the parliamentary investigation, Hans-Christian Stroeble, said on television that the information had been obtained by the illegal tapping of telephones and therefore should not be used by the parliamentary committee. However Stroeble acknowledged that the Stasi files would at least have a "background influence" on the committee's probe of the present scandal.

The CDU itself is adamant that the material contained in the Stasi files should not be offered to the parliamentary commission investigating the current scandal. A spokesman said today that a consensus of all political parties was required before such evidence could be presented and the CDU would not agree.