Bribery Trial Opens In Flick Scandal
BONN, West Germany (AP) _ The bribery trial of two former economics ministers began Thursday after a long probe that shook Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s government. It adjourned for one week when defense attorneys charged the court was unqualified to handle the case.
While demonstrators protested outside with banners demanding ″Sweep Out the Pigsty,″ the trial of ex-ministers Otto Lambsdorff and Hans Friderichs and a onetime top executive of the Flick holding company opened under heavy security.
Lambsdorff and Friderichs are the first major government figures to go on trial in the Flick influence-peddling scandal. Friderichs was economics minister from 1972-77, and Lambsdorff, his successor, held the job until he was forced to resign under indictment last June.
Thursday’s session lasted 41/2 hours before the judges adjourned until next Thursday to read a hundred pages of new defense motions.
The seven defense attorneys argued that the court lacks the economic expertise necessary for the complicated case, and charged that jurors had been prejudiced by pre-trial publicity. Their statements were so lengthy the court did not get to the opening formalities of reading the indictment and statements by the defendants.
The Bonn prosecutor’s investigation into influence-peddling by Flick has shaken Kohl’s government and forced the resignation of several major politicians.
The Flick scandal began a decade ago with a standard check of a company’s tax records, and has grown into one of West Germany’s largest ever. It included allegations of complex money-laundering schemes, secret contributions to political parties and back-door reporting by Finance Ministry informants to corporate bosses on company tax cases.
Lambsdorff, a prominent West European political figure, arrived at court Thursday in a black limousine. He sat impassively at the front of the court room during the proceedings, his back to the crowd.
Friderichs is also a former chairman of Dresdner Bank, West Germany’s second largest bank.
The third defendant, Eberhard von Brauchitsch, the former Flick general manager charged with funneling bribes to Lambsdorff and Friderichs, smiled broadly as he elbowed his way through the crowd into the courtroom. None of the defendants talked to reporters.
Lambsdorff and Friderichs are charged with accepting more than 510,000 marks ($180,000) from Brauchitsch during the 1970s to arrange tax breaks of up to 480 million marks ($177 million) for Flick, West Germany’s largest private holding company.
The defendants insist they are innocent. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison.
All three defendants also face tax evasion charges, but the court has not announced whether they will be tried on those charges concurrently with the other charges.
Lambsdorff resigned as economics minister on June 27, 1984. Although he allegedly accepted the Flick bribes while working under former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, his resignation came after Kohl became chancellor.
His trial has become an embarrassment for the embattled Kohl government, already grappling with popularity problems and a spy scandal.