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German CDU escapes criminal probe

Stoiber
Polls show Stoiber is the conservatives' best hope of challenging Schroeder  


BERLIN, Germany -- German prosecutors have refused to investigate the alleged financial irregularities of an opposition party led by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's possible challenger.

Munich prosecutors examined allegations that the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union used fake invoices to claim millions in federal funds, and concluded there was not enough evidence to open a criminal inquiry.

Parliament President Wolfgang Thierse, meanwhile, has decided to go ahead with a parliamentary investigation, and issued a statement on Thursday promising a speedy and fair inquiry.

The allegations come at a critical time for Edmund Stoiber, head of the Bavaria-based party, who polls show is the conservatives' best hope of challenging centrist Schroeder in elections later this year.

On Thursday, the Social Democrats accused Stoiber of "self-satisfied arrogance" for his party's insistence that its financing was beyond reproach.

The CSU, the Bavarian branch of Germany's Christian Democrats, questioned Thierse's neutrality and renewed allegations of a "slander campaign" by the Social Democrats.

Party denies illegal action

German political parties receive funds from the federal government based on how many votes they receive.

They also get a 50 percent match on all donations. Parties' financial disclosures determine how much the government pays in matching funds.

According to the report in this week's edition of Stern magazine, the CSU broke party financing laws when it claimed about six million marks ($2.7 million) in matching funds during 1994-99 by declaring subscriptions to party publications as campaign donations.

The party says it did nothing illegal and the practice was cleared at the time by parliamentary officials who oversee federal campaign aid to political parties.

In Munich, the Christian Social Union's home base, prosecutors decided against opening a preliminary investigation that could have led to criminal charges.

"We see insufficient evidence for a criminal case," senior prosecutor Horst Lehmpul told The Associated Press, noting that the CSU had publicly presented a parliamentary document backing its case.

The conservatives were just starting to narrow the gap in the opinion polls with Schroeder's SPD, ending two years in the doldrums since former Chancellor Helmut Kohl admitted taking about $1 million in secret party donations.

They are expected to name their candidate for chancellor this month. The choice is likely to be between Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel and Stoiber, who heads the CSU and the CDU's sister party. Germany goes to the polls on September 22.



 
 
 
 


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