- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2000

Political housekeeping in Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) looks more like Hurricane Floyd these days than the honest, orderly process for which Germans have been known. The opposition party's attempt to deal with allegations of campaign-finance wrongdoing has generated silence, resignation and worse from some of the party's key leaders. Last week their leader of 25 years, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, stepped down from his voluntary chairmanship of the CDU because of the growing scandal. Then came the news that the CDU's chief financial officer for the parliamentary delegation had hanged himself.

Party officials initially blamed personal problems for Wolfgang Huellen's suicide. But a German newspaper subsequently reported that the suicide note he left said he feared an audit would show he had illegally transferred funds from the delegation's account.

The party's most serious problems began two months ago. Tax investigators charged that the CDU's former treasurer did not pay taxes on a donation of 1 million marks to the party. The donation came from a man who was lobbying for the sale of tanks to Saudi Arabia while Helmut Kohl was chancellor and party chairman.

Mr. Kohl denied that he knew of the contribution or that it was a bribe to facilitate the tank sale. Later, however, he did admit to stashing campaign contributions in secret accounts and violating laws requiring the disclosure of the donations. When he refused to name the donors, he was forced to step down from the honorary position. Still the scandal grew. Last week auditors said they had found another unexplained $5.2 million in the party's records that's beyond the previous admissions and disclosures that over $17 million had been mishandled or falsely reported by the party.

Obviously, the CDU's cover-up in this case has only compounded its wrongdoing. Wolfgang Schauble, head of the CDU, seems to understand that the party must be more forthcoming. He began a parliamentary session last week with a confession: He said, albeit indirectly, that he had initially lied when asked about accepting an illegal $52,000 contribution to the party from an arms dealer, that his party had broken laws and that "faith in the integrity of our democratic institution was damaged."

The CDU is hardly the only one coping with a financial scandal these days. Israel's attorney general ordered an investigation Thursday into allegations that President Ezer Weizman committed tax violations and accepted $314,000 without reporting it while he served in the Knesset. And on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was questioned about 10 groups linked to his Labor Party which may have contributed to his campaign illegally.

What has happened in Germany should be an example to officials in Israel or anywhere else in the world on how not to handle a scandal. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said of the resignations and secrecy of certain members of the CDU leadership: "These decisions have neither contributed to a clarification nor to the advancement of the housecleaning of the Christian Democrats." But if nothing else, Mr. Schroeder should remember the ordeal has shown Germany and the world that anyone can fall prey to dishonest tactics even chancellors. It is often when a politician or party begins to think it is beyond failure that it falls.

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