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Germany's Ex-Chancellor Retires From Parliament

Europe: Reunification architect Helmut Kohl leaves political office after 26 years.

September 14, 2002|From Reuters

BERLIN — Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl retired after 26 years in Parliament on Friday but skipped the final session, drawing rebukes from opponents who said he was "slipping out the back door" to dodge questions about a financial scandal.

Kohl, chancellor for 16 years but an ordinary deputy since losing the 1998 election, spoke in Parliament only twice in the last four years but was embroiled in many debates as the center of Germany's worst postwar political scandal.

Although Kohl, 72, is hailed abroad as the architect of German unification, his 1999 admission that he took $1 million in illegal campaign donations while chancellor and his refusal to reveal the money's source badly tarnished his reputation and hurt his party, the Christian Democratic Union.

"Kohl put himself above the law, and now he's sneaking out the back door in order to avoid questions," said Frank Hofmann, a member of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party and a critic of Kohl.

A parliamentary inquiry concluded that the Christian Democrats under Kohl raised about $10 million in illegal campaign contributions between 1982 and 1998.

Although in violation of the law, the party only had to pay the money to Parliament plus a fine.

Kohl escaped formal punishment. After his party failed to persuade him to reveal the source of the funds, party leaders distanced themselves from Kohl, moving him from the second to sixth row in Parliament and ordering him to stay quiet.

Kohl, who entered Parliament in 1976, will maintain an office in Berlin, a courtesy granted to all former chancellors.

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