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Germany: Campaign Scandal Deepens

A young leader the Christian Democrats had hoped would help lift them out of their campaign funding scandal may face a criminal probe after admitting he lied about the source of donations, prosecutors said Wednesday.

The admission by Hesse state governor Roland Koch cast doubt on his campaign to expose secret accounts run for years by the Christian Democrats' state branch there. Those accounts have been one of the flash points of the funding scandal centered on former Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Koch revealed Tuesday that he falsely reported the source of some $750,000 in state party funds as having come from a donor even though he knew since December that the money came from a secret account.

The local Greens party filed a complaint citing attempted fraud. Afterwards, prosecutors in the state capital, Wiesbaden, said Wednesday they were considering whether to put Koch under criminal investigation.

But Koch rejected growing calls -- including a strong hint from Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder -- for his resignation and new state elections.

"We have a mandate from voters," insisted Koch, who won election a year ago. "If my generation runs away, the Christian Democrats will be in huge danger."

Koch's political future hinged on the small Free Democrats, his junior coalition partner in the state legislature. While the party's national leader called Koch's conduct "not acceptable," local Free Democrat legislators voiced continued support.

Koch, 40, was a rising star while Kohl ran the Christian Democrats for a quarter-century. He had appeared largely unscathed in the scandal, which exploded when Kohl admitted in December that he had illegally solicited up to $1 million from donors he has refused to name.

Now Schroeder -- a member of the ruling Social Democratic party, the Christian Democrats' main rival -- is criticizing Koch's refusal to budge.

"The self-appointed investigators are part of the system," he told the Flensburger Tageblatt newspaper. He said Koch should "make a real break to help re-establish trust in Hesse politics."

As the Christian Democrats' troubles deepened, Schroeder said in an interview released Wednesday that he would like to see tougher penalties including jail time for violations of party financing laws. Under current law, violations can lead at worst to fines against the party.

"Everyone who goes around the law should know in the future that he will get a severe fine or go behind bars for it," Schroeder told Stern magazine, which publishes Thursday.

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