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Germany

Kohl Takes Heat Off Former Minister Pfahls

The corruption trial of Holger Pfahls took a key turn on Wednesday with the testimony of ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who effectively cleared the former junior defense minister of suspicions of bribery.

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Helmut Kohl: "I was never bribeable"

Kohl told the court in Augsburg that he was personally responsible for a controversial decision to sell armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War. His junior defence minister at the time, Holger Pfahls, 62, had no influence on the deal, the former chancellor said, effectively clearing Pfahls of bribery charges.

Kohl said that he promised former US Secretary of State James Baker in 1990 that Germany would export tanks to Saudi Arabia. During the first Gulf War, he gave the US all manner of financial and material support in order to prevent sending German troops over to fight, Kohl said.

He added that he never understood why Pfahls would have received any payment in connection with the deal.

"The Saudis knew that they'd get their tanks," Kohl said. "It was clear to everyone that I would honor my promise."

Kohl stressed that his government had never been open to bribes.

"I have no indication of outside influences," Kohl said. "I was never bribeable and never will be."

Tax evasion charges remain

Holger Pfahls Fototermin

Former German state secretary of defense, Ludwig Holger Pfahls

Pfahls, who is being tried on corruption and tax fraud charges, has admitted taking around 511,000 euros ($630,000) from arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber in connection with the sale of 36 armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia, but says he did nothing in return. He has also admitted to pocketing about a million euros over an 820-million-euro deal to sell armored vehicles to the United States the previous year.

According to the charges against him, he failed to declare to tax authorities a "corruption salary" paid into a Swiss bank.

The presiding judge said at the start of the trial that Pfahls could face a relatively lenient sentence of two years and three months in prison if he delivered a full confession. A verdict is expected on Aug.11.

No new evidence on CDU scandal

Kohl's testimony was eagerly awaited in Germany, as the former leader's own reputation was badly damaged in 1999 when it emerged his CDU party had been involved in receiving illegal donations through a secret slush fund.

Kohl swore never to reveal the names of the donors, though German police suspect that Schreiber was among them. Kohl has kept his promise, despite hopes that the Pfahls trial might shed more light on the CDU funding scandal.

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