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Kohl Acknowledges Free Plane Trips

January 26, 2000

BERLIN (AP) _ Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl acknowledged today that he accepted free flights from a media tycoon after leaving office, but he denied the trips were a payback for political favors.

Coming in the midst of a campaign funding scandal centered on Kohl, his admission highlighted the cozy ties between German politicians and business that critics view as a root of the problem.

Kohl’s spokesman, Michael Roik, said the former chancellor accepted six free flights last year on a plane owned by his friend Leo Kirch, a German media magnate. Destinations included gatherings of conservative parties in Austria and Italy and a speech in Switzerland. He also accepted a flight inside Austria while Kohl was vacationing last year.

Kohl and his Christian Democrats lost the chancellery in 1998, but he retains a seat in parliament.

Stern magazine, which reported today on the flights, said Kohl had supported Kirch’s business dealings, including his effort to win European Union approval of a planned pay TV alliance involving Kirch, Bertelsmann and Deutsche Telekom.

Kohl said in a statement ``that these flights have no connection with my activities as chancellor.″

Even as he rushed to douse the latest allegations, Kohl was accused of dishonorable behavior today by one of his most loyal aides, deepening his isolation as he refuses to clear up the campaign money scandal.

Norbert Bluem, who served as Kohl’s labor minister for 16 years, joined other senior Christian Democrats in condemning Kohl for withholding the sources of millions of dollars in illegal party funds that flowed in during the 1980s and ’90s.

``As long as he remains silent, everyone can claim there’s no morality in politics,″ Stern quoted Bluem as saying.

While the conservatives struggled with their crisis, the governing Social Democrats came under growing pressure to dump a state official who lied about flights he took on jets chartered by a bank with close ties to the state government.

Heinz Schleusser, longtime finance minister in North Rhine-Westphalia, allegedly took 49 free flights. Reversing earlier denials, he admitted this week that his girlfriend went along on two of the trips.

The Christian Democrats, seeking fuel for May state elections, demanded Schleusser’s resignation today. But Governor Wolfgang Clement said the finance minister would stay.

In Kohl’s case, parliament has opened an inquiry into whether campaign money was tied to political favors after he admitted last month that he illegally took secret donations when he led the Christian Democrats.

Kohl denies such a link. But his silence about the money sources has kept speculation alive. Kohl says he promised the donors to keep them secret.

``He is wrecking the idea of a word of honor by using it to justify breaking the law,″ Bluem said. ``I still expect him to see the light.″

While Kohl’s historic role as the chancellor who united Germany in 1990 is secure, he has lost friends and increasingly retreated from public life as revelations of secret campaign funds grew into tens of millions of dollars.

He has skipped meetings of his party dealing with the scandal, has left his seat in parliament empty and even canceled an appearance at a German soccer federation gala. Plans by his party for a 70th birthday bash in April are on hold.

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