- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2000

Silence of the CDUUntil now, Germany's Christian Democrats have just kept their heads above water in the face of a political finance scandal that has touched multiple levels of their party leadership. Yes, they may have taken bribes, they may not have reported political contributions and they may have embezzled money. But it was for the sake of the party, and the contributors to the party slush fund were "honorable German citizens," former Chancellor Helmut Kohl said about those who had given him more than $1 million in unreported donations.

The came the stunning revelation, courtesy of Germany's state-owned ARD television, that the late French president Francois Mitterrand helped arrange for a payment of $15.7 million to the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The timing of the alleged payment was extraordinary, coming just as the French desperately needed Germany's support for the European monetary union, and the Germans needed French support for the reunification of Germany.

An unnamed aide to Mitterrand told German television that Mitterrand was worried about Germany's support for the European monetary union, and had pushed the French oil company Elf-Aquitane to support Mr. Kohl's 1994 campaign. As Helmuth Sonnenfeldt, guest scholar at the Brookings Institute told The Washington Times. "It was a complex deal between the French and the Germans … the wrangling over reunification and the wrangling over financial unity. And how the skids were greased it sounds perfectly plausible, that money should be involved." Added Mr. Sonnenfeldt, who served as former head of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe office for the State Department, "I regret that it doesn't surprise me."

Prosecutors investigating Mr. Kohl said there was no reason to investigate the allegations because the event happened more than five years ago. Even the Social Democrat chairman of a German parliamentary inquiry into the case said he didn't find the Mitterrand connection plausible. But ARD, which also reported there was no evidence that Mr. Kohl had knowledge of the $15.7 million payment, is standing by its story. It cited two sources close to Mitterrand.

But those responsible for defending Mitterrand's legacy are finding the news shocking, shocking. Mitterrand was too busy with the domestic French political scene where at the time a right-wing government was coexisting with a left-wing president to have time to be involved in a political finance scandal. Mitterrand's secretary-general said in a Reuters report: "How can anyone imagine that in 1994, in the middle of cohabitation, Mitterrand would have busied himself with the financing of the CDU via Elf whose chief executive was … an appointee of Balladur?"

As likely as it may be that the Frenchman could have been too busy with other endeavors, as long as CDU leaders retain a code of silence on the contributors to their party funds, there will continue to be speculation. As it is, each day brings new revelations from investigators, despite party members' silence. An independent audit of the CDU's funds revealed last week that the sources of $6 million in party donations was untraceable, and now the party is turning on its former accountant, Horst Weyrauch, to tell all.

If the party is forced to abide by a German law that would require them to come up with 30 million deutsche marks to repay undeclared payments and forgo future state funding, the party would take a hard financial hit. It is better that Mr. Weyrauch, and his compatriots, talk sooner rather than later. The CDU must stand up to protect the legacy of its former leader Mr. Kohl, who helped unify Germany, defeat communism and unite Europe with a common currency. Silence is no way to do that.

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