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In one of his strongest defenses so far, embattled 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 Welt am Sonntag newspaper Sunday.

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.

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