The web of secret money transfers trapping Germany's conservatives in a financing scandal widened today following allegations made in a television report that the French government of president Francois Mitterrand funneled nearly $16 million to support former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's 1994 reelection.
The scandal took a further twist today after a fake statement was faxed to news media saying Kohl was ready to name anonymous donors to his Christian Democratic party. Kohl told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that the fax was a forgery and reiterated that he would not identify the donors from whom he has acknowledged soliciting $1 million in clandestine party donations.
"I have no intention of making such a statement," Kohl was quoted as saying.
His refusal to name names has become the key issue in the scandal. Parliament has launched an inquiry to examine whether bribes or kickbacks influenced government decisions under Kohl, who was chancellor from 1982 to 1998. He also is the subject of a criminal investigation.
Kohl stepped down as honorary chairman of the Christian Democratic Union last week under pressure from party leaders who demanded he identify the donors. Some party officials have even hinted of possible legal action to compel him to reveal the donors.
Angela Merkel, Christian Democratic secretary general, met with senior party leaders for seven hours this evening to review an audit of the party's finances. She told reporters that accountants had been unable to clarify where $5.7 million in party money had come from, although $1 million was believed to be from Kohl's anonymous donors.
The audit was to be made public Monday, but Merkel said it did not clarify what role may have been played in the backdoor funding by Mitterrand, who died in 1996, and the French oil company Elf Aquitaine.
ARD television reported Saturday that Mitterrand had arranged payment of $15.7 million to the Christian Democrats and that the money was transferred as part of alleged bribes totaling $44 million paid by Elf Aquitaine for its 1992 purchase of the Leuna refinery, which before German unification was East German state property. The alleged bribes have long been under investigation by Swiss and French prosecutors.
Officials in the German chancellor's office also have been searching for missing government files on the deal that are being sought by Parliament as part of its inquiry into the scandal. This week, the government said it would appoint a special investigator to track down the files.
ARD said there was no evidence Kohl was aware of the $15.7 million transfer, and Michael Roik, Kohl's spokesman, called the allegation a character assassination of the former chancellor.
In a joint report with French Television 2, ARD cited sources close to Mitterrand as saying the money was not a bribe but was intended to serve "state interests for Europe." Mitterrand and Kohl were close partners in European diplomacy, and the French leader reportedly wanted to help ensure Kohl's reelection as chancellor.
The television report said the French and German secret services met regularly with middlemen in a Geneva hotel to make the payments.