German prosecutors propose fine for Kohl


German prosecutors probing Helmut Kohl for fraud over his admission he took US$1 million in secret cash donations while in office, recommended on Thursday the former chancellor be fined but not face full criminal charges.

That would mean Kohl would not have a criminal record for breaching party funding rules. But his reputation as a major postwar statesman has already been tarnished by an affair that has plunged his opposition Christian Democratic Union party into crisis.

The justice ministry in North Rhine-Westphalia said in a statement that public prosecutors in Bonn investigating the affair had agreed to shelve their inquiry if Kohl paid a 300,000 mark (US$142,000) fine.

A spokeswoman for Kohl, now an ordinary parliamentarian, said he would make a decision on whether to accept the fine if and when the recommendation was approved by the competent court in Bonn. “That could take a few days,” she said.

While Kohl admits to having broken party funding rules by accepting the payments, he rejects allegations that he was open to bribery and that he defrauded his party. However, his lawyers have been reported as urging him to accept a fine if offered.

The spokeswoman said Kohl was in Berlin’s Reichstag building listening to a parliamentary debate.

The scandal, which broke in 1999, brought his conservative Christian Democrats to the verge of break-up. In opposition since 1998 when current Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his Social Democratic Party ousted Kohl after 16 years of rule, they are still dogged by the aftermath of the affair.

The scandal sent their poll ratings into free fall and claimed the political career of Kohl’s anointed successor as party chief, Wolfgang Schaeuble, over irregularities concerning the booking of a much smaller sum.