Global Policy Forum

Kohl Resigns From German Party Post


By Tony Czuczka

Associated Press
January 18, 2000

Berlin - Helmut Kohl resigned as honorary chairman of Germany's Christian Democrats today, bowing to rising anger in the party about his refusal to help clear up a campaign funding scandal. Kohl announced his decision shortly after an emergency meeting of party leaders called for his suspension from the honorary post until he identifies the sources of apparently illegal cash donations that touched off the scandal.

Kohl admitted "mistakes" but rejected a renewed appeal by his party to identify the donors, a step the conservatives hope would end speculation that the money was tied to political favors. Kohl says he gave his word to keep the donors secret. "I cannot bring myself to break the promise I made to several personalities who financially supported my work in the Christian Democratic Union," 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." He admitted making mistakes during "four decades in important posts," but added: "I have always tried to do my duty."

Earlier today, the party's national executive suspended Kohl from the honorary post - an extraordinary step illustrating the power struggle between the CDU leaders and the man who led the party with a tight grip for 25 years. Kohl did not say anything about the parliament seat he still holds. The party's national executive had earlier leveled unprecedented criticism at their former chairman and rallied behind its weakened new leader, Wolfgang Schaeuble. "We are convinced that Helmut Kohl breaches his duty as honorary chairman if he refuses to contribute to overcoming the crisis," they said in a statement. Sanctioning Kohl was a painful decision, and three of the 39 executive board members refused to support punishing Kohl, Schaeuble told a news conference.

Schaeuble said the party had asked him to stay on and clear up the scandal, despite grumbling by some in the party that he was tainted too and should step down. "The national party executive has expressed its confidence in Wolfgang Schaeuble," Thuringia governor Bernhard Vogel said as the session broke up. The leaders stopped short of more radical measures demanded by some, including resignations at the highest levels after Kohl's former interior minister became the first victim of the scandal. Kohl last month admitted accepting up to $1 million in unreported campaign funds in the 1990s, when the Christian Democrats led Germany's government. His party has repeatedly urged him to identify the donors, hoping to end speculation that the money was tied to political favors. Kohl has refused, saying he promised the donors secrecy even while admitting he broke the law.

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 the damaging revelations Friday by former Interior Minister Manfred Kanther that the 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 1989-96. A spokesman for Kanther said Monday that Kanther would give up his seat in the Bundestag, making him the first prominent party figure to fall in the scandal.


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