- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2000

Editor's note: The following is the second article in a three-part series.
If one walks down Glinka Street too quickly, the Stasi files headquarters is easy to miss. A simple steel sign just to the right of the door inscribed with the federal eagle and a reference to the "Staatssicherheitsdienst" (national security service), seems an inadequate reminder of the East German security and intelligence force that once controlled the public and private lives of Germans both sides of the border.
Now, 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, certain Stasi documents are giving that former intelligence service a controversial position in the spotlight. Incriminating conversations of former chancellor Helmut Kohl, who will not name the donors of $1 million in illegal campaign contributions he accepted, have been found in former East German police files.
Government officials are divided on the issue of whether the files should be used as evidence against Mr. Kohl and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which has accepted millions in illegal donations and funneled many of them into Swiss bank accounts. Joachim Gauck, who runs the agency which makes the Stasi files available, thinks that the documents should be used as evidence. After all, laws written about the release of the files only require that proof be given that the information is vital in the investigation of the implicated person. Joachim Jacob, who is in charge of protecting personal data, believes using these documents obtained through espionage would violate Mr. Kohl's privacy.
The question is where the investigative committee can find complete testimony, when Mr. Kohl and his contemporaries, many of whom are still in power, refuse to name those involved in the illegal deals. Even Saxony state leader Kurt Biedenkopf, known for his opposition to Mr. Kohl throughout the chancellor's rule, thought the use of such files was illegal.
"Data procured by way of espionage should not be accepted in court or by the investigating committee," Mr. Biedenkopf told The Washington Times at the party congress.
The task of where to find honest, complete evidence is also a question of who remains untouched by the embezzlement, bribery, payoffs, deception and illegal contributions involved in Germany's ever-widening investigation into party finance corruption. Since November, both Social Democrats (SPD) and CDU officials have been implicated. On the national, state and city levels, government leaders, including Mr. Kohl and CDU leader Wolfgang Schaueble, have had to step down due to their involvement in shady financial deals.
In order for the past to be put behind them, politicians must be honest about the challenges faced by their own party, without fingering their opponents. But at the CDU party congress in Essen April 9-11, many seemed unwilling to do that.
Another politician often in the spotlight, Hesse state leader Roland Koch of the CDU, had already lied about his use of funds from secret Swiss bank accounts to finance his political campaign. His state has also been under special scrutiny for its role in the scandal; because of its party funding violations, parliament is fining the CDU $21 million. On Feb. 8, Mr. Koch was forced to admit his cover up, but months later he is still pleading innocent.
When asked by The Washington Times at the party congress if what he had done was criminal, he responded with a resolute, "No." When asked if his party had been involved in criminal activity, he answered: "Things have been done on the border of the law," but would not name who and what those "pseudo-criminal" actions were.
Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen painted Mr. Koch's actions as just as harmless.
"When someone acts the same [in private] as one does in public, this is not criminal," he said in an interview. But if there is nothing to hide, why not put the funding on the books, as required by German law for every contribution over $10,000 (20,000 deutsche marks)?
To prevent such lawbreaking from occurring in the future, the SPD has suggested that a change be made to the current law, which requires the party as a whole pay for infractions committed by individuals. Though the law currently provides an individual punishment for embezzlement, the SPD has discussed extending punishment to individuals who break party finance rules.
Here, too, CDU officials are resistant to change. But even if one accepts their argument that the current law is sufficient, the question remains of why it took up to 23 years to begin uncovering the corruption. (Records of conversations between a former CDU finance officer and Mr. Kohl's confidants suggest the East German authorities knew corrupt financial practices were occurring as early as 1976).
One man who has had to help the CDU to take responsibility for its errors is Matthias Wissmann, whose term as CDU treasurer ended last month. "There's no doubt what these people did was in clear violation of the laws," he said in an interview about those who had refused to report party donations. To pay fines incurred for those violations, his party was having to cut 15 million deutsche marks a year from the CDU budget over the next five years, he said. How did he get party officials to agree to take responsibility as a whole for the trespasses of the few? "You must tell them completely about the crisis and then either you live or you die," he said.
Government officials who were and continue to be involved in the cover up of illegal financial deals still have the opportunity to follow Mr. Wissmann's advice. May they have the strength to do it boldly.
E-mail: [email protected]

Sarah Means is an editorial writer for The Washington Times.

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