- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2000

BERLIN Helmut Kohl resigned yesterday as honorary chairman of the Christian Democratic Union, brought down by a campaign financing scandal that marks the stunning denouement of one of Europe's most respected statesmen and the man who reunited Germany.

Defiant to the end, Mr. Kohl gave up the influential post rather than capitulate to demands that he identify donors who made illegal campaign contributions and help clear up a scandal that threatens to ruin the party.

Mr. Kohl's single-handed leadership facilitated Germany's swift reunification in 1990. But he also tolerated no dissent, and he finally ceded influence in the party he tightly controlled during 25 years as chairman after its executive committee effectively isolated him during an emergency session.

In an extraordinary step that clearly pained Mr. Kohl's successor and protege, Wolfgang Schaeuble, party leaders earlier yesterday threatened to suspend Mr. Kohl as honorary chairman until he agreed to cooperate. The post was a rare honor bestowed when Mr. Kohl gave up the party leadership in 1998 after the loss of national elections to the Social Democrats.

"We are convinced that Helmut Kohl breaches his duty as honorary chairman if he refuses to contribute to overcoming the crisis," a pale and dejected Mr. Schaeuble told reporters after the emergency session.

The leaders demanded that Mr. Kohl name names to save the party something Mr. Kohl flatly refused to do, even when fellow conservatives insisted it would end speculation that anonymous donations were tied to political favors.

"I cannot bring myself to break the promise I made to several personalities who financially supported my work in the CDU," Mr. Kohl said in a statement.

"The decision to resign the honorary chairmanship was not easy for me," he said. "I have been a Christian Democratic Union member for 50 years. It was and is my political home."

Mr. Kohl retains his seat in parliament, which gives him immunity from prosecution unless the legislature votes to lift it.

The resignation ended the power struggle in the party, with Mr. Kohl the loser. Mr. Schaeuble said the party had asked him to stay on and clear up the scandal, despite grumbling by some party members that he, too, was tainted and should step down.

The governing Social Democrats and Greens charged that the opposition had forfeited the chance to deal with the crisis head-on.

"The decisions of the Christian Democrats have neither cleared up anything nor led to a self-cleansing," Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the party was still "hurtling downward in an avalanche."

Mr. Kohl's defiance even after admitting in a television interview last month that he violated the constitution has been increasingly viewed as a liability to the party as it tries to clear itself of accusations that it broke party financing laws by keeping donations off the books.

Mr. Kohl admitted accepting up to $1 million in unreported campaign funds in the 1990s, when the Christian Democrats led Germany's government.

Prosecutors in Bonn are investigating whether Mr. Kohl should be charged with breach of trust for financial irregularities. He also is the subject of a parliamentary inquiry, which officially gets under way tomorrow parallel to a parliamentary debate on the scandal.

Mr. Schaeuble was also under growing pressure in the tangled plot of apparently illegal cash payments and suspicions of influence peddling after disclosing he accepted $52,000 from a businessman.

Admissions and disclosures so far have topped $17 million, including damaging revelations Friday by former Interior Minister Manfred Kanther that the party's Hesse branch channeled $6.8 million in campaign funds through a Swiss account back into Germany when he was state party chairman. The money was falsely reported as bequests from abroad between 1989 and 1996.

Mr. Kanther became the first victim of the scandal, announcing Monday he would resign his seat in parliament.

Other suspicious transactions include a $52,000 cash handover by businessman Karlheinz Schreiber to Kohl aides in 1991. Mr. Schreiber, a central figure in the scandal, has denied suspicions that the money was in return for the Kohl government's approval of an arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

The donation to Mr. Schaeuble also came from Mr. Schreiber, who is fighting extradition from Canada on German tax evasion charges.

In addition, the party admitted that $8.9 million in anonymous donations remain on its Hesse branch's secret Swiss account.

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