Scandal rears its head at West Germany's opposition Social Democrats. But public and politicians alike seem disinterested
Summer wouldn't be complete in West Germany without a win by Boris Becker at Wimbledon and at least one juicy political scandal. As surely as the 18-year-old Becker saw to the former, the news magazine Der Spiegel saw to the latter. With its usual gadfly touch, Spiegel devotes 12 pages this week to allegations of money laundering and tax evasion on donations worth millions of dollars to the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD).
The old titillation is no longer there, though. SPD press spokesman Wolfgang Clement has dismissed the charges as old and false, and most of the news media are treating them as the kind of dubious story that gets hyped during the summer season of little real news.
For their part, politicians from the center-right government are not eager to magnify the issue either, since their former economics minister is still standing trial on earlier charges. Their view in any case is that industrial donations to parties, far from being evil, are good for democracy and should bring tax benefits to contributors.
Their failure to pass legislation to this effect in their four years in office represents only what they regard as the temporary embarrassment of the junior coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), because of accusations of FDP abuse of the existing law.
By now even the general public seems to be inured to charges of financial hanky panky by the parties and is greeting the latest revelations with a yawn. Gone are the days when the anti-establishment Greens party could gain sympathy as the only pure party that did not have some questionable business or trade union funds coming into its coffers.
The former economics minister, Free Democrat Otto Lambsdorff, has contended all along that he would be acquitted, and he is hoping for an early decision now after almost two years of trial. In particular, he would like to be cleared so that he might again run for Parliament (and a new Cabinet post) in next January's election without the stigma of being a defendant in court. The timing is problematic, however: while the court could rule soon on the most serious charge of bribery, proceedings are set to continue for months on the related charge of use of office for improper advantage.
This uncertainty has hardly stopped the redoubtable Count Lambsdorff from continuing the public promotion of his credo of an economic market free of all but the most minimal government intervention, and it probably wouldn't prevent him from again winning a seat in the Bundestag -- but it could make a reelected center-right government reluctant to reappoint him to the Cabinet.
Der Spiegel -- the news media spearhead of the earlier allegations that led to the indictment of Lambsdorff, his FDP predecessor as economics minister and later Dresdner Bank chief executive Hans Friderichs, and former senior deputy chairman of the Flick conglomerate Eberhard von Brauchitsch -- attributed its latest charges to an investigation by the Bonn prosecutors. It claimed that the SPD-associated Friedrich Ebert Foundation for political education channeled 22 million Deutsche marks ($10 million) of its intake of 56 million marks ($25 million) between 1975 and 1981 to the Fritz Naphtali Foundation in Israel, and that this money went to the SPD via a Swiss bank account.
In denying the allegations, SPD spokesmen Clement said that the party board had passed on to prosecutors all requested documents.