Holger Pfahls is considered a key figure in the political slush fund scandals of the Christian Democrats in the 1990s. Following his arrest, new light could be cast on one of Germany's biggest political scandals.
French police found Holger Pfahls in this Parisian neighborhood
German prosecutors on Wednesday called for the immediate extradition of Holger Pfahls, who is suspected of accepting a bribe while serving as deputy defense minister under former conservative Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
The state prosecutor's office in Augsburg said it would likely file an extradition application with French authorities by the end of the week.
French police arrested Pfahls on Tuesday as he left a Paris apartment. For five years, he had been on Germany's "most wanted" list, suspected of taking nearly €2 million ($2.4 million) in bribes for helping German industrial giant Thyssen obtain a government arms contract for delivering Fuchs tanks to Saudi Arabia.
He is also widely believed to be involved in the party slush-fund scandal that tainted Kohl and his conservative Christian Democratic Union party.
State investigators in the Bavarian city of Augsburg allege that senior officials in Kohl's government, if not the chancellor himself, authorized the negotiations between Pfahls and Thyssen which were orchestrated by German-Canadian arms dealer Karl-Heinz Schreiber.
Tentacles that touched crime after crime
In addition to the tank bribes and slush fund scandal, Pfahls (photo) is also under investigation by French authorities for his suspected involvement in the Leuna refinery scandal. The French federal prosecutor's office said it suspects Pfahls accepted a bribes from French oil giant Elf-Aquitaine when it purchased the East German refinery in the early 1990s.
If the French seek to pursue the investigation, it could delay or complicate Pfahls' extradition to Germany. Prosecution documents in the 2003 Elf trial in Paris accuse Pfahls of pocketing €8 million of the €40 million in commissions Elf paid out as part of the purchase.
Arrest came as surprise
In Germany, Pfahls' arrest could lead to a reopening of the slush fund investigation. Volker Neumann, the man who chaired a parliamentary committee investigating Pfahls before he disappeared, said the arrest came unexpectedly. "Mr. Pfahls trail was lost in 1999 between Taipei and Hong Kong, and then he disappeared," Neumann said. "His arrest in France was a big surprise because we believed he was still in Asia."
Neumann said Pfahls might be able to explain why the alleged bribes flowed in the first place. But he said the courts would have to be the first to take action.
"First, the courts have priority to bring him to trial for the charges already filed against him. This concerns the supply of tanks to Saudi Arabia," he said. "Whether other charges are brought is not yet clear, although the statute of limitations has expired for most of the allegations."
However, the opposition Christian Democrats are refusing to reopen the commission's work. Wolfgang Bosbach, the deputy chairman of the CDU's parliamentary group, told German public radio broadcaster Deutschlandradio he didn't know what purpose a "reanimation" of the commission would serve. "The ball is now in the court of justice," Bosbach said.
Meanwhile, the ruling Social Democrats are taking a wait-and-see approach. Prosecutors first need to bring Pfahls to Germany, said SPD chief Hans Müntefering. "We're just waiting, there's no reason to move at a hectic pace," he said.