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Germany: Kohl Prepares To Testify On Finance Scandal

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is due to appear before a parliamentary committee later this week to answer questions about his party's secret bank accounts, an unfolding scandal that has damaged his reputation. But Kohl has already created an uproar in Germany by seeming to compare the investigation against him to the Nazi persecution of the Jews. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports from Munich.

Munich, 26 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Helmut Kohl's tirade was triggered by a statement by a leading official of the governing Social Democratic Party, or SPD, Schleswig-Holstein Premier Heide Simonis. She had appealed to Germans to ignore Kohl's pleas for donations to help pay a heavy fine imposed on his political party, the Christian Democrat Union, or CDU. The fine was levied as a punishment for breaking laws on the financing of political campaigns.

The SPD politician also urged a boycott of companies that had given donations to the CDU to help pay the fine. She particularly pressed for a boycott of one company -- Nestle -- because a senior official had donated $250,000 to cover the fine.

Asked about this in a television interview, an angry Kohl said: "It reminds me that when I was a child my mother took me to certain shops where other people did not go because of a sign which said: 'Germans do not shop here.'" Kohl was born in 1930.

This was a clear reference to the boycott of Jewish shops organized by the Nazis in the 1930s. It provoked fury in Germany's Jewish community. Michel Friedman, a member of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, described Kohl's remarks as "irresponsible and politically unacceptable." Friedman, himself a Christian Democrat, said Kohl's comment "trivializes the persecution of the Jewish community in the Third Reich."

Other critics said Kohl should publicly apologize, saying it was "obscene" to compare the parliamentary investigation to the plight of Jews in the Nazi era. Some called on him to resign his seat in Germany's parliament. Kohl has not publicly responded to any of the criticism.

Kohl also used the TV interview to attack the inquiries into some of his activities during his 16 years as chancellor, particularly the use of secret campaign funds. The secret accounts in banks in Switzerland and Liechtenstein violated German laws on funding political parties and led to the heavy fine imposed by parliament in February.

At least $1 million was contributed to the CDU by a secret group of donors. Kohl has declined to name them, saying only that they were "upright German citizens" who for various reasons do not wish to be identified. He told the TV interviewer that he will continue to protect the donors' anonymity.

Calling the financial investigations a scandal, Kohl said they insult the honor of a man who has been named an honorary citizen of Europe:

"Out of someone who is an Honorary Citizen of Europe -- that is a title given to me by the state and by European government leaders -- they want to make someone who is close to being a criminal. And I consider that a scandal."

But Volker Neumann -- the Social Democrat who leads the special parliamentary committee inquiring into the CDU's financial affairs under Kohl -- denies there is a personal campaign against the ex-chancellor. Neumann said his team is simply investigating potential violations of the law, and he emphasized that Kohl himself has already admitted violating the law on party funding:

"We are investigating whether there have been breaches of the law. [Kohl] has admitted violating the law on party financing and continues to violate the regulations by refusing to name the donors. In our opinion, that is a violation of the constitution.

Kohl's lawyers have indicated that he will not be forthcoming when he appears before the special parliamentary committee on Thursday (June 29). They say Kohl will take a tough approach to questions. Kohl is expected to be accompanied by four attorneys when he appears, most of them experts on constitutional law.

Kohl's long-time personal secretary, Juliane Weber, denied any knowledge of the financial transactions when she appeared before the investigating committee earlier this month. She maintained her denial even when the committee produced incriminating documents with her name on them.

At Thursday's session of the parliamentary committee, Kohl will also be questioned about a number of business transactions that took place while he was Germany's leader. Among them is the sale of the Leuna oil refinery in eastern Germany to the French company Elf Aquitaine. German media have published statements by some French businessmen alleging that bribes were involved in the sale.

Kohl will face questions as well about the sale of 36 German tanks to Saudi Arabia at the time of the 1991 Gulf War. A German arms dealer now living in Canada, Karl-Heinz Schreiber, has said that bribes were also paid as part of this transaction.

In a related development, another parliamentary investigator reported last week that many of the files relating to the sale of the Leuna oil refinery and of the tanks had disappeared. He recommended that the case be turned over to prosecutors to determine whether the files had been deliberately destroyed.