CDU may sue Kohl as funding scam deepens
BERLIN, Jan 21: Christian Democrat Union (CDU) is considering suing its long-time leader Helmut Kohl to make him reveal the source of secret slush funds that have dragged the party into its worst ever scandal, a party official said, reports Reuters.
The woes of a party already tearing itself apart deepened on Thursday when a senior party aide hanged himself and police said his suicide note had led them to open a fraud investigation.
At the heart of the scandal is Kohl's forced admission that he received $1 million in undeclared gifts for the party during his 16 years as chancellor, in contravention of electoral law.
Party leaders, many of them his proteges, desperately want him to name the donors as a way of shaking off the scandal, and their pressure has forced him to quit as honorary CDU chairman.
Late on Thursday former party general secretary Heiner Geissler said on national ZDF television that the CDU was considering launching a civil suit because the crisis could not be overcome until Kohl named names.
"As former party chairman he has a duty to provide the information," Geissler said.
Berlin prosecutor Stefan Wolf told the same channel he had begun an investigation "based on a preliminary suspicion of breach of trust" against Wolfgang Huellen, the 49-year-old head of the parliamentary CDU's finance and budget unit who was found dead in his Berlin apartment earlier in the day.
The CDU said Huellen's death was a personal matter that had nothing to do with the scandal, but ZDF said the suicide note contained references which might connect him to misuse of party funds.
Commentators said Huellen's suicide added a new and tragic element to the scandal, even if it were unconnected.
"The party says the motives for the suicide were personal. But at the same time, Wolfgang Huellen chose to commit suicide at the peak of the finance affair," the conservative daily Die Welt said in an editorial.
Die Welt said the scandal was no longer only eating away at the party itself, but also at its members.
Kohl's successor as CDU leader, Wolfgang Schaeuble - who has himself admitted to receiving donations that were not properly declared - apologised to parliament for what seem to be systematic violations of party financing laws.
The party is struggling to explain the origin or the handling of at least $5 million worth of funds, and Schaeuble admitted it was "stuck right in the middle of the donations mess."
Kohl himself is under criminal investigation for suspected breach of trust, an offence carrying a maximum five years in prison.
Revered until December as one of Europe's leading statesmen and an architect of German unification, he now finds himself dubbed "Don Kohleone", mafia-style, by German media.
The party which Kohl ran for 25 years, 16 of them as chancellor, has sunk to a historic low in polls.
A parliamentary committee of inquiry is to question Kohl and a galaxy of prominent politicians who served under him in an attempt to establish whether any of the secret funds were used to buy political favours.