Another apparent wire-tapping scandal erupted in West Germany today, with the colorful and controversial leader of a conservative opposition party - Franz-Joseph Strauss - claiming that his phone was bugged just before the 1976 federal elections.
An Official of Strauss' Christian Social Union said he presumed the Bonn government had ordered one of its agencies to carry out the tap because it had not been able to find out anything incriminating about Strauss at the time in connection with the Lockheed bribery scandal.
A spokesman for the Bonn government, Klaus Boelling, said It was absurd to suggest that the government had initiated any tap on Strauss. But he did not dispute that that the tapping may have taken place. Boelling said a thorough government inquiry had been ordered.
Strauss, however, said he didn't trust an inquiry by the administration and wanted a parliamentary investigation.
Strauss' Bavarian party is the sister party to the Christian Democrats in West Germany's other nine federal states. The combined conservatives narrowly missed defeating Chancellor Free Democrats coalition in October 1976. Just before those elections, the government announced a variety of inquiries into allegations, first lodged by a former Lockheed agent in West Germany, that Strauss party had received millions of dollars in kickbacks on a Lockheed Starfighter contract in 1961 when Strauss was defense minister.
Last fall, Strauss repeatedly charged that the government timing was a campaign smear tactic and he repeated those charges today.
Earlier this month, a federal Justice Ministry committee reported that a year-long investigation into the Lockheed pay-off charges had not turned up any evidence of secret pay-offs to West German officials or political parties.
Strauss claimed today that the bugged conversation involved a discussion with a party newspaper editor over the whereabouts of paper he took from his office while defense minister.
Last year, Bonn was caught up in another wire-tap episode when it turned out that intelligence officials had bugged the phone of a leading nuclear scientist, suspecting that he had close connection with urban terrorists. The scientist did have a casual acquaintance with some of them, but the government later apologized.
It was also reported last year that car-telephone conversations between two leading figures in the Christian Democratic Party had been tapped, but it was never discovered who had initiated those taps. Some govenment sources here speculated that the Strauss tap might be result of interparty aquabbing or that it may have been done without orders from the govenment.
Meanwhile, another apparent scandal in West Germany's big state-owned banks is unfolding is Dueseldorf. The banking scandal could have serious political repercussions for the country's ruling Social Democratic Party.
Just before christmas, Ludwig Poullain 58, the chief of West Germany's third largest bank - the Westdeutsche Landesbank - abruptly resigned his $350,000-a-year post when it was learned that the government was inquiring about some half million dollars allegedly collected by Poullain in cash from the financier who is under suspicion of bankruptcy fraud.
The plot thickened substantially this week when Heins Kuehn, minister of the state where the bank operates, admitted to a state parliamentary committee that he knew of Poullain's difficulties at the time the state reappointed the banker to his job with a 75 per cent increase in salary.
What is worse, however, is that Kuehn had told a press conference a fews days earlier that he had not heard of the Poullain affair until it was reported in the press.
Thus, Kuehn is now faced with charges of having given the public false information and calls for his ouster are coming from the Christian Democratic opposition party.
Keuhn is a Social Democrat and heads the largest of the ten federal states in West Germany - NorthrheinWestphalia. - It is the most crucial state for the ruling Social Democratic Party of Chancellor Schmidt, which has been losing ground in state electections steadily for two years now, despite some resurgence of strength for Schmidt at the federal level.
The ruling coalition has already lost control of a marjority of the state governments and new elections in four states are scheduled this year.
The latest state bank scandal also comes shortly after the close of inquiry into an earlier scandal involving the Hesse state bank which forced another Social Democrat state minister, Albert Osswald, to resign last fall after huge losses were incurred in shady investments.