Outside, a crew from German television waits on the corner, hoping to catch an interview with the man whose briefcase full of cash has roiled German politics and threatened an ignominious end to the career of former chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Inside, he receives word that he has been subpoenaed to testify before a German parliamentary committee, which is not very likely--he is already fighting extradition to Germany, where he faces prosecution for fraud, bribery and tax evasion.
But Karlheinz Schreiber says he is not worried. When it all comes out, he promises he will be revealed not as the mastermind of political corruption, but as one of its victims, betrayed by former partners, libeled by overzealous journalists and abused by unscrupulous prosecutors and politicians.
Schreiber is no stranger to political scandal on either side of the Atlantic.
Not long after setting up a branch of his German construction company in Canada, Schreiber was accused of using inside information from local politicians on his board of directors to earn a windfall profit in the Alberta real estate market in the 1970s. A judicial inquiry cleared him of wrongdoing.
Then, five years ago, Canadian politics was rocked by accusations that he had funneled several million dollars to former prime minister Brian Mulroney in exchange for help in selling Airbus jets to Air Canada in the 1980s. The allegations were spelled out by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in a confidential request to Swiss authorities for information about a secret bank account they suspected had been set for Mulroney. But the money was never found, and an embarrassed Canadian government eventually apologized to Mulroney and paid $1.4 million in legal fees.
The RCMP had relied on diaries and other papers seized from Schreiber's home and office in Bavaria by tax authorities in 1995, along with testimony from a former associate of Schreiber's, a Swiss accountant named Georgio Pelossi. Pelossi had told German prosecutors that Schreiber received nearly $50 million in commissions from Airbus and two leading German defense firms--Messerschmitt Bolkow Blohm GmbH and Thyssen Industrie AG--that Pelossi said were laundered through shell companies controlled by Schreiber in Liechtenstein.
Following the trail suggested by Pelossi and Schreiber's records, German authorities have since uncovered what they allege is a wide-ranging campaign finance scandal involving Kohl and other top officials of his opposition party, the Christian Democratic Union. The party announced in Berlin today that it will hold an emergency leadership meeting Tuesday to decide the fate of party chairman Wolfgang Schaeuble, who admitted receiving more than $50,000 in cash from Schreiber in 1991 that was not properly recorded on party ledgers.
Schreiber, meanwhile, faces his own legal troubles.
In a 107-page affidavit accompanying their request for extradition, prosecutors said he is "strongly suspected" of failing to pay more than $12 million in taxes on $34 million in unreported income between 1988 and 1993. They also allege that Schreiber bribed Germany's deputy defense minister, Ludwig-Holger Pfahls, to win approval of the sale of 36 German tanks to Saudi Arabia at the outset of the Persian Gulf War in 1991--and then pocketed a $14 million commission that was hidden from the Saudis.
"This is crazy," said Schreiber of the allegations against him.
In two rambling interviews, Schreiber denied that he owned or controlled the Kensington Group and International Aircraft Leasing, the Liechtenstein companies that received the commissions from Airbus, MBB and Thyssen. He acknowledged, however, that he had done work for those clients as well as for Kensington and IAL.
He denied bribing anyone, indignant at the suggestion that he would have to engage in such tit-for-tat with respected officials who were friends and collaborators on a whole range of worthy projects. And as for the two cash contributions totaling $575,000 to Kohl's party, Schreiber said the money was not just from him but from a group of friends and business associates who did not--and still do not--want their identities revealed.
"It became somehow a tradition that if you give money to them, you don't record it," said Schreiber.
With his zip-up winter boots and checked sports jacket, Schreiber, 66, looks the part of the prosperous Bavarian burgher. Born into wartime Nazi Germany, he began to rub elbows with politicians in the 1950s while searching for contracts to paint white lines down the middle of roads. Among his early political patrons: Franz Josef Strauss, the head of the Christian Democratic party in Bavaria who went on to become a powerhouse in German politics and later chairman of Airbus.
Attracted by clean air and open markets in Canada, he set up a separate operation in western Alberta in the 1970s but eventually gravitated to Ottawa, where he bought a condominium on embassy row. Along the way, Schreiber helped pave the way for Airbus in North America with a small sale to a regional carrier named Ward Air, then brokered the sale of German helicopters to the Canadian coast guard. And for more than a decade he worked tirelessly--and unsuccessfully--to persuade the Canadian government to buy armored vehicles from a new factory that Thyssen proposed to build in an economically depressed area of Cape Breton.
All along the way, he courted leading political figures of both of Canada's major parties, contributing to their campaigns, hiring them as lawyers, involving them in the Atlantic Bridge, an organization designed to improve relations between Canada and Europe.
"As a mover and shaker, Karlheinz has probably moved too many things and shaken a bit too much. But I can't believe he's bribed anyone," said Elmer MacKay, a former solicitor general in the Mulroney cabinet who put up $65,000 in bail for Schreiber after he was arrested on the German extradition warrant last September here in Toronto.
CAPTION: German businessman and arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber, shown with his wife Barbara, is at the center of the scandal involving former chancellor Helmut Kohl.