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German Conservatives Challenge Fine

March 3, 2000

BERLIN (AP) _ Struggling to recover from a finance scandal, Germany’s Christian Democrats will file a lawsuit next week to stop a $21 million fine imposed on them for submitting a false financial report to parliament, a spokesman said Friday.

The Christian Democrats have called the fine _ the biggest ever imposed on a party _ excessive and have argued it would unfairly handicap the party’s ability to mount future campaigns.

A legal challenge had been drafted and was undergoing a final check before it is brought to court, party spokesman Ralf Weidner said.

The fine, levied last month, grew out of a scandal over illegal financial practices under former Chancellor Helmut Kohl that broke late last year.

Kohl, who also served as party chairman for a quarter century, has admitted accepting the equivalent of $1 million in undeclared contributions. His refusal to name the donors sparked a parliamentary probe into whether the cash influenced government decisions _ something Kohl has repeatedly denied.

Parliamentary president Wolfgang Thierse, who determined the fine after an audit of the party’s 1998 financial disclosure forms, has defended the level as the amount set by law.

But in an interview to appear in the Mannheimer Morgen newspaper Saturday, Thierse, a Social Democrat, said he was willing to discuss a compromise over the time period in which the fine would be paid.

Some have suggested that the fines could climb into the hundreds of millions as continuing audits turn up more evidence of illegal donations, but Thierse said the Christian Democrats did not need to fear that.

``I consider such a level to be speculative exaggeration,″ he said.

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