German financial scandal brings call for 'glass pockets'
Ever since it was discovered that the president of the West German parliament had secretly been on the payroll of the industrialist Friedrich Flick, cries have been raised for deputies to wear ''glass pockets.''Skip to next paragraph
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Almost everyone speaking during a six-hour debate on the political payments affair last Friday paid lip service to the principle of full financial disclosure.
''On the American model,'' the opposition Social Democrats added.
But that would be going a shade too far for many on the government side of the house.
Heiner Geissler, Secretary-General of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union, said he was for full financial disclosure, so long as the laws guaranteeing the confidentiality of a lawyer's relationships with clients and the secrecy of tax returns were observed.
Chancellor Kohl, Mr. Geissler told parliament, had added an idea of his own, namely, that deputies make their financial dislosures to a parliamentary ''committee of honor'' rather than to the public. This, the Chancellor thought, would satisfy the need for the deputies to reveal for whom they actually working , as well as the laws on the protection of privacy and data.
Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher's Free Democrats added another qualification, saying that while deputies probably should list all of their business contacts, they should not be required to say how much they were paid by any one of them.
Several of the 15 deputies who spoke warned that if the political payments affair drags on for much longer, voters will begin to lose confidence in the democratic parties and become ripe for the attentions of some radical, anti-democratic leader.
Undoubtedly, the political payments scandal has aroused the ire of more voters than anything else that has happened since Kohl led the Christian Democrats back to power 25 months ago.
''When one of the 498 deputies, of whatever party, speaks in his constituency , and then opens the floor to questions, the first one always is, 'How much did you get from Flick?'' one party man reports.
For their part, the political parties were neglecting to name any of their large industrialist contributors in their annual accountings to parliament.
But it is now known that all of the parliamentary parties (except the Greens, who were not in parliament in the 1970s) received at least some money from industrialists who thought it best to cover all of their bets, particularly while the Social Democrats were still in office.
Biggest contributor of all was the family-owned Friedrich Flick Corporation, West Germany's largest holding company, and one looking for a waiver of at least Christian Democrats and Mr. Genscher's Free Democrats.
The waiver was granted, and confirmed, by two Free Democrats who served as ministers of economics in the last government formed by Social Democrat Helmut Schmidt.
Both of the Free Democrats have been indicted for allegedly having granted favors in return for Flick's bribes, which are said to have gone into party coffers. Flick's people also are to be tried for tax evasion. No Social Democrats or Christian Democrats have yet been indicted.
A special parliamentary investigative committee subpoenaed the public prosecutor's documents, which have been leaking to the press at an accelerated rate.
The committee already has cross-examined former Chancellors Schmidt and Willy Brandt, both Social Democrats, and two weeks ago, put Chancellor Kohl and Foreign Minister Genscher on the stand.
Kohl admitted, as did Bavarian Minister President Franz Josef Strauss, accepting cash for his party from Flick's general director during the 1970s. Kohl said he never asked the source of the cash, and was not asked for nor did he offer a receipt for the contributions.
Social Democrat Juergen Schmude, a former minister of justice, attacked Kohl and Mr. Strauss on this point last week, saying they apparently still failed to understand the impropriety of a party leader accepting cash payments.
Although Kohl had demanded the debate and had been expected to take the lead in suggesting a solution to the affair, he remained silent, grinning broadly or shaking his head in disbelief whenever deputies attacked him. The Chancellor apparently has decided to let Geissler and Finance Minister Gerhard Stoltenberg work out a resolution, one that parliamentary wags now say probably will result in deputies wearing ''glass pockets'' as the public demands, but pockets made of milky rather than of transparent glass.