Germany's former leader Helmut Kohl turns 70 today. But instead of celebrating with guests around the world, he is trying to stop publication of telephone conversations taped by the former East German secret police which might contain details about his role in political and financial deals while he was in power. RFE/RL's Roland Eggleston reports.
Munich, 3 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Helmut Kohl said over the weekend that he will use all legal possibilities to prevent publication of telephone calls by himself and his staff which were monitored by the Stasi secret police. Kohl said that if necessary he would go to the German Constitutional Court to try to ban publication.
The Cold War-era chancellor has given little explanation of why he does not want the tapes released. But commentators say they could contain information about sensitive political negotiations on international affairs, possibly including some with Russia and the United States.
Other commentators recall that Kohl is being investigated about the use of secret campaign funds for his Christian Democratic party in the 16 years he was in power until 1998. Kohl has declined to name those who provided the funds or give details of how the money was used, and some speculate that the telephone taps might provide some information.
An angry Kohl said at the weekend that he has nothing to fear personally from disclosure of his phone conversations. But he said the Stasi tapped the phones illegally, and the results of such criminal methods should not be accepted in democratic Germany. Kohl's own administration, however, used Stasi records to prosecute communist officials in the former East Germany.
The existence of the telephone taps was revealed last week by the Berlin authorities checking the Stasi archives. They suggested that the CDU may have maintained illegal secret accounts in Switzerland earlier than investigators had believed. The material released last week included transcripts of telephone conversations by some of the CDU officials currently being investigated in regard to the secret accounts.
The Berlin authorities say they have more than 170 meters of transcripts and thousands of tape recordings. The records show that the Stasi tapped the phones of many high officials, including the former Social Democratic chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Willy Brandt and former president Richard von Weizsaecker.
The Stasi also tapped the phone conversations of Angela Merkel, the former East German physicist who is expected to take over the leadership of Kohl's Christian Democratic party in a few weeks. In 1984 Merkel, who was then a physicist at the East German Academy of Sciences, came under suspicion because of her contacts with the family a dissident (Rudolf Bahro) and with opposition groups in the East German church community.
The Berlin authorities say a preliminary check of the transcripts and the tapes indicate that the Stasi took an early interest in the young politician Helmut Kohl, who was apparently recognized early as a rising star in the CDU. The Stasi recorded his conversations about the political situation in Germany, about developments within the CDU, including financial matters, and about Kohl's own personal decisions. After he became chancellor in 1982, it was not so easy to tap the phones of Kohl and his secretary because of security measures, but they tapped the phones of Kohl's associates.
German television last night interviewed a former East German official, Werner Grossmann, who said he was involved in the surveillance of Kohl. He said it covered every aspect of the chancellor's life. German newspapers today published transcripts of some of the reports, including Kohl's conversations with his wife Hannelore in a hotel room when he visited East Germany in May 1988. Kohl and his wife discussed which tie he should wear with his dinner jacket.
Several Western commentators say some of the material may have been distorted to discredit Kohl and the CDU. They gave specific instances of documents and letters containing distorted information which were circulated to the media in West Germany. Some were accepted as fact by German newspapers and magazines and published, to the detriment of the CDU.
The fate of the information gathered by the Stasi phone-tapping is being widely debated in Germany. Many believe the Stasi information is tainted and should not be used or published, although they acknowledge that information from the same source has been used against former East German officials.
The parliamentary committee investigating the CDU financing scandal and Kohl's role in it is also debating whether to use the Stasi transcripts. Justice Minister Herta Dauble-Gmelin, says she thinks the Stasi tapes should not be used as evidence by the parliamentary committee. However, she says, individual members of the committee should be able to ask questions based on the Stasi material.
In the end, it may be the Constitutional Court that has to make a decision.