Criminal Probe of Honecker, Others Suspected of Power Abuses With AM-Czechoslovakia, Bjt
EAST BERLIN (AP) _ East German authorities Thursday stripped former leader Erich Honecker of immunity from criminal charges and began an investigation of alleged abuses of power by Honecker other disgraced Communist Party officials.
Authorities also sealed off a country estate where Honecker and other ousted leaders have lived, apparently to prevent removal of evidence.
The moves were the strongest indications to date that the former leadership will be made to account for alleged abuses.
″Everyone is equal before the law,″ Communist Party chief Egon Krenz said on national television. He said the accusations against Honecker and others are ″serious and unworthy of a Politburo member.″
The official ADN news agency reported later that more than 10,000 East Germans marched in the city of Erfurt to protest special privileges for top party and government figures.
ADN announced a criminal investigation into alleged abuse of power by Honecker, former Premier Willi Stoph, and former Politburo member Guenther Kleiber, who are all in seclusion. Their whereabouts is not known.
The news agency said Honecker, who was dropped from power Oct. 18, was under investigation on suspicion of having misused his office for personal gain. It gave no details of the alleged abuses.
Krenz, a former protege of Honecker’s, has been pressing for exposure and punishment of past errors and excesses as a means of repairing his party’s tarnished image.
Krenz faces widespread opposition from many pro-democracy activists, as well as within the troubled party hierarchy that meets in a crucial session Dec. 15-17.
The party that has dominated government and society for 40 years also is wrestling with challenges and demands for broader power-sharing by the fledgling political opposition.
The Communist Party last week announced an internal investigation of reported wrongdoing by Honecker, his top lieutenant Guenter Mittag and other party figures recently removed from positions of authority.
Mittag was thrown out of the party Nov. 23 in the first punitive action against any of the ousted officials.
The aging party figures who were part of the hard-line regime headed by Honecker for 18 years are accused by pro-democracy forces of having lined their pockets at public expense while the national economy slipped continuously behind that of West Germany.
Regional government chief Hartmut Boecker said the immunity Honecker was earlier entitled to was suspended ″to facilitate a criminal investigation and inquiry,″ ADN reported.
Local authorities also have imposed a security cordon around the residential estate to ″prevent the removal of material from the buildings,″ Boecker was quoted by ADN as saying.
The move appeared to be aimed at both preserving evidence that might be used against the former leaders in a criminal trial and preventing the residents from absconding with valuables from the state compound.
East German newspapers reported Wednesday that Stoph had abandoned his opulent home in a former nature preserve after hauling out artwork and furniture. He left behind expensive electronics, imported wine and other evidence of the lavish lifestyle previously enjoyed by the party elite.
ADN gave no indication of what charges might be filed against any of the officials.
Honecker, 77, has not been seen in public since his ouster six weeks ago, and is reported to be seriously ill.
Krenz initially was seen as the former leadership’s hand-picked successor, and therefore widely mistrusted. But under public pressure for social and economic reforms, the new party leadership has agreed to talks on the nation’s future, beginning next week.
Party leaders have also promised to give up their constitutional mandate for a ″leading role,″ and have agreed to work toward free elections.
Also Thursday, the government’s chief spokesman declared national unity in the effort to resist moves toward reunification of the two German states.
Wolfgang Meyer told reporters at a press conference that the appeal issued by leading intellectuals and signed by Krenz, Premier Hans Modrow and other top officials has won ″the support of the majority of the population,″ including the various pro-reform movements pushing the Communists to share power.
The appeal was announced after West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl laid out a 10-point plan to work for eventual reunification of Germany - a concept broadly resisted by East Germans who want to remain a separate and sovereign state.
A signature drive has been launched for support of the appeal, which declares East Germany a socialist state independent of West Germany.