Ex-Interior Minister Manfred Kanther, Prince Casimir Wittgenstein, a former state treasurer, and Horst Weyrauch, a former financial adviser to Helmut Kohl's CDU, all face charges related to illegal funding of the party.
Ex-CDU Interior Minister Manfred Kanther in court on Tuesday
The trial of two former officials of ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats over the illegal funding of the party began on Tuesday at the Wiesbaden state court.
Former German Interior Minister Manfred Kanther, a one-time member of Kohl's cabinet, and Prince Casimir Wittgenstein, the Christian Democrats' Hesse state branch former treasurer, are charged with breach of trust and charges related to the lingering slush-fund scandal surrounding Kohl's time in office. Horst Weyrauch, a former financial adviser to Kohl's CDU, is also accused of aiding and abetting the breach of trust.
Shady transfers of cash
The defendants have been charged with moving nearly €10.6 million ($13.3 million) in funds from the Hesse state branch to secret bank accounts in Switzerland and then via Liechtenstein back to Germany to avoid financial reporting requirements in the 1980s. The money is said to have been used to fund election campaigns between the end of 1982 and January 2000 without the knowledge of the party's executive, Wiesbaden prosecutor's spokesman Klaus Schulte said in an interview.
"They neither harmed the party nor privately enriched themselves, but depriving those responsible within the party of the power to dispose of the money is also considered a crime,'' Schulte said in the opening statement. The offense carries a prison term of up to five years, he said.
Kohl got sleaze ball rolling in 1999
The scandal really exploded in 1999, when Kohl admitted in December of that year, 12 months after he and his party lost power, that he had accepted around €1 million in cash from unidentified donors. He has refused to name the donors ever since, but has vehemently denied that decisions by his government were bought during his 16 years in power.
The scandal spread when Wolfgang Schäuble took over as CDU party chairman after Kohl quit, only to resign a few weeks later over other cash donations that weren't registered in the party's accounts as required by law.
Administration under investigation
Then, in 2001, the Wiesbaden prosecutor brought charges related to the CDU's funds in the state of Hesse against Kanther, who headed the CDU Hesse branch and was state finance minister between 1987 and 1991. The court's economic panel ruled that the statute of limitations applied as the money had been transferred to Switzerland more than five years earlier, Schulte said.
The Frankfurt Higher Regional Court then overturned that ruling after the prosecutor appealed, arguing that the five-year limitation should only apply from the time the money was brought back to Germany. The trial is scheduled to last until December, with Hesse's Christian Democratic premier, Roland Koch, among witnesses scheduled to appear.