A regional criminal court in the German town of Wiesbaden has sentenced the former Christian Democrat interior minister Manfred Kanther to 18 months on probation for shady financial dealings in the eighties.
Manfred Kanther was found guilty of fraud
Kanther was found guilty of having transferred the equivalent of more than 10 million euros during his stint as General Secretary of the Hesse Christian Democrat Union in 1983 to a secret Swiss bank account. Besides his suspended sentence, he was also ordered to pay 25,000 euros ($32,400) into the state coffers. The court also found former financial consultant Horst Weyrauch guilty of accessory to fraud and fined him 61,200 euros.
While it is not illegal for a German political party to have foreign accounts, it is illegal not to include all assets in annual accounting reports. Investigators have been conducting a probe into the financial activities of Kanther and two of his assistants for many years now, but have made little progress in clarifying the origins of the Hesse funds which Kanther himself has frequently declared as donations from Jewish benefactors.
"Nobody put any of the money under investigation into their own pockets," Kanther said. "Every cent of it went back to the Christian Democratic party, and that's the only out-of-court statement you'll get from me."
State Premier for Hesse, Roland Koch
The money parked in Switzerland was later channeled back to the Hesse CDU in various installments, with much of it believed to have financed the road to power of Hesse's present-day CDU premier Roland Koch (photo).
The "Kohl system"
Manfred Kanther was only one of many CDU leaders who opened up secret accounts during the reign of chancellor Kohl. Depositing huge party funds abroad without their appearing in the books even became known as the "Kohl system."
Parliamentary speaker Wolfgang Thierse
When the Social Democrats came to power, parliamentary speaker Wolfgang Thierse (photo) imposed a 21 million-euro fine on the national CDU for its illegal resourcefulness on the fiscal front. Had the transfers to foreign accounts and back to Germany been declared properly, they would have been subject to taxation under current party financing laws.
But these laws were not yet in place when Kanther opened up the account in Switzerland. As party expert Detlef Essinger pointed out, that is why Kanther feels he has been treated
"I think the very fact that he’s had to appear before the court is like a huge insult and humiliation for him," Essinger said. "There can be no two ways about it that he doesn't feel guilty at all."
The sentence exceeded prosecutors' calls for Kanther and Weyrauch to pay fines of 72,000 euros and 36,000 euros respectively.