Worse news for Kohl

Allegation: Did French money buy a German election, and if not, how can they prove it?

January 27, 2000

GLOBALIZATION of the economy helps explain the Democratic fund-raising scandals of 1996 and may explain the scandal swirling around former Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany. With money and corporations leaping borders every day, more can be expected wherever politics is corruptible.

Mr. Kohl led his Christian Democratic Union party for a quarter century and was chancellor of West Germany and united Germany for 16 years. He is a giant of the last century, a major architect of European institutions.

Mr. Kohl also admits to taking $1 million for the party illegally and won't say from whom because he gave his word. His honor, as he construes it, is more important than German law. He adds that none of the money was foreign.

If only that were all.

An audit by the firm of Ernst & Young for the CDU's own investigation showed that it received $6.3 million illicitly under Mr. Kohl's leadership. The party, now weak in opposition, is fit to be tied.

Younger politicians who must pick up the pieces want to drum their former hero out of the CDU, which may shatter into pro- and anti-Kohl factions, leaving Europe's economic giant without a viable two-party system.

But that's not all. German and French television reported that sources close to former President Francois Mitterrand of France say he aided Mr. Kohl's re-election to insure European Monetary Union. They say he had the giant French oil company, Elf Equitane, then state-owned, put $15.7 million into CDU coffers in 1992.

If nothing else, this shows that state-owned television news operations can report independently.

French authorities say there is no evidence to investigate. The German prosecutor says the statute of limitations is five years for political corruption, so this charge is not worth investigating. That leaves the allegation out there undermining the credibility of Europe's most important governments, with no competent authority willing to investigate.

Two lessons:

French and German democracy would each be stronger if everything were fully investigated, the chips falling as they may.

Any foreign money entering U.S. politics was not an aberration, but a likelihood in permanent danger of recurring. All politics is corruptible. Eternal vigilance is needed.

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