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Politicians, Executives in the Can Following Trash Scandal

German police on Thursday evening detained three new suspects in a bribery scandal involving the Cologne branch of the governing Social Democrats (SPD). The three men have been accused of taking bribes and tax evasion.


A corruption scandal involving a Cologne trash incinerator continues to burn.

The trash in Cologne is burning again.

Police on Thursday night took Karl Wienand, 75, the former manager of the SPD's parliamentary group, Norbert Rüther, 51, the former chairman of the SPD's Cologne branch, and the businessman Hellmut Trienekens, 63, into custody.

The state prosecutor's office alleges that the men accepted bribes worth more than €11 million euro in return for supporting the construction of a city-owned trash incineration plant in Cologne during the 1990s.

Officials said they detained the men amid concern they may try to flee. A decision is expected on Friday as to whether the men will be held in investigative custody or released.

Prosecutors said investigators have uncovered evidence that the construction company Steinmüller GmbH funneled DM21.6 million (€11 million) to the men through a Swiss bank account in order to secure the DM800 million (€400 million) construction contract to build the plant.

Prosecutors believe Ulrich Eisermann, the former head of AVG, Cologne's communal waste disposal company, received DM9.5 million of the funds. Wienand is believed to have pocketed DM6.4 million as well - of which DM2.4 million came from Trienekens firm. Former Steinmüller chief Sigfrid Michelfelder, they allege, accepted DM2.4 million in bribes. Additionally, DM3.3 million was paid in commissions to the Swiss banks that handled the transaction.

They say that Rüther received two cash bribe payments from Eisermann in 1995 and 1998 of approximately DM1 million each (€511,000).

Both Michelfelder and Eisermann have been held in investigative custody since late February.

Social Democratic Party officials participating in a federal parliamentary investigative committee looking into illegal campaign financing in German political parties say they do not believe any of the bribe money given to Rüther found its way into the party's coffers. State investigators in North Rhine-Westphalia, however, are still probing the money trail.

In Cologne, the scandal has cast a shadow over the Social Democrats' efforts to campaign on behalf of incumbent Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Jochen Ott, the current SPD chief in the city welcomed the fast results of the investigation. "It's good for us that it came so quickly and didn't get drug out for months. That's important for the security of the people in the local groups and for every membber of the party so that they can focus on campaigning for Gerhard Schröder," he said.

The development was the second financial scandal in a week to envelop senior officials of a major German political party.

Court rules against CDU

On Wednesday, the Berlin Higher Administrative Court ruled that the opposition Christian Democratic Union had to pay a €20.9 million fine for falsifying financial disclosure documents and failing to disclose DM18.2 million (€9.3 million) it had deposited in foreign bank accounts.

The court stated that a party must make accurate financial disclosures in order to qualify for federal matching funds. The funds in question related to donations collected by the Hesse state chapter of the CDU.

The defense argued that the party had not been aware of the accounting practices of its Hessen branch and filed its annual report based on available data.

German parliament President Wolfgang Thierse, a Social Democrat, originally ordered the fine in early 2000, after the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, had become embroiled in a slush fund scandal involving tens of millions of deutsche marks.

The opposition Union bloc sued over Thierse's order and won in a lower court, but the Berlin appeals court overturned that ruling this week. The CDU says it will now appeal the decision.

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