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Parliament Opens Probe of Kohl

December 2, 1999

BERLIN (AP) _ Parliament launched a formal probe today into secret party accounts run by former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, which have touched off a political storm in Germany.

Kohl’s own Christian Democrats joined other parties in the lower house in approving the investigation, a chance for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s governing coalition to embarrass the opposition conservatives.

The scandal centers on a covert $530,000 payment by an arms dealer to the treasurer of the Christian Democrats while Kohl was chancellor and party chairman in 1991.

Lawmakers will try to establish whether the money was a kickback for an arms sale to Saudi Arabia, the designated head of the investigating committee, Volker Neumann, said today.

Wolfgang Schaeuble, who succeeded Kohl as party chief last year, said he backed the panel because the allegations that government decisions were influenced by secret payment were serious.

``It is in the interest of our democracy to clear this up as quickly and comprehensively as possible,″ he told parliament.

Legislators from Schroeder’s Social Democrats and their coalition partner, the Greens, harshly attacked Kohl during the 90-minute debate and demanded a full disclosure of how he handled party finances.

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