In one of his strongest defenses so far, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl has rejected accusations that money changed hands under the table in a privatization deal for a former East German refinery.
The deal that let a French oil concern buy the Leuna refinery was in Germany's best interests, and money was never discussed between Kohl and then-French President Francois Mitterrand, Kohl said in an interview in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper Sunday.
Also Sunday, a key former financial adviser to Kohl's Christian Democratic party said the party's system of secret money stretched back to 1971, predating Kohl's first term as chancellor and much earlier than previously reported.
The adviser, Horst Weyrauch, said he didn't know the source of money that was stashed away in secret accounts for the party's branch in Hesse state. He said none of the millions discovered in the Hesse accounts abroad ever went to the federal party, denying media reports of a connection.
Weyrauch allegedly ran the entire system of secret Hesse accounts. His statement, released through his lawyer in Frankfurt, seems to bolster perceptions that Kohl holds the key to unraveling the source of money in secret accounts set up for the federal party.
Weyrauch is the first witness who will testify in a parliamentary investigation into whether influence was bought in Kohl's government. The Christian Democrats welcomed his release of information Sunday, but said in a statement that further contradictions still needed to be cleared up.
Kohl and his Christian Democrats have been embroiled in a financial scandal since his admission last month that he accepted up to $1-million in off-the-books donations for the party.
Last weekend, a report by German and French television claimed Mitterrand arranged for payment of $15-million to the Christian Democrats in 1992 to help his friend Kohl's campaign. The report said the money was part of payoffs for the deal by French oil concern Elf Aquitaine to buy the Leuna refinery.
But in the newspaper interview, Kohl echoed an earlier denial by his spokesman. He said he had only acted in the interest of securing jobs.
"I at no time received money, and also had no knowledge whatsoever about shady financial machinations," Kohl said.
"The accusations now raised are absurd," Kohl told Welt am Sonntag. He called them "a terrible concoction of unproven statements, slander and anonymous tips."
Kohl said the Leuna deal prevented mass unemployment in the region. He said he even acted against the wishes of West German companies that would have preferred not to have competition.
In addition to Kohl's admitted under-the-table financing, the Christian Democrats are accused of hiding millions more in overseas bank accounts to avoid campaign finance laws.
More disclosures in the scandal were likely to come from a 1,000-plus page report given Saturday to the party's Hesse state branch. The report was prepared by Weyrauch. It has not yet been made public.