A retired German arms dealer has been sentenced to eight years in prison for tax evasion, putting an end to a decade-long saga about kickbacks and illegal political donations which nearly ruined the legacy of Helmut Kohl, former chancellor.
The court in Augsburg, southern Germany, handed down its verdict to Karlheinz Schreiber on the day that 800 of the country’s great and good – including Angela Merkel, the current chancellor – celebrated Mr Kohl’s 80th birthday.
The official celebration in Ludwigshafen, near Mr Kohl’s home in Oggersheim, south of Frankfurt, came a month after his actual birthday and marked a rehabilitation of sorts just as Mr Schreiber met with the full force of the law.
Hallowed for uniting Germany and integrating Europe, Mr Kohl in 2000 was forced out as honorary chairman of his Christian Democratic Union as a slew of revelations about illegal party funding came to light during a tax probe into Mr Schreiber.
The judge on Wednesday called Mr Schreiber “greedy and self-indulgent” and found him guilty of evading taxes on €33m ($42m) of royalties, pocketed in the late 1980s and early 1990s for helping companies sell aircraft and arms.
With the sentence, judge Rudolf Weigell came close to prosecutors’ calls for nine years in prison, dismissing parallel charges of bribery and fraud only on technical grounds.
The 76-year-old Mr Schreiber had denied any wrongdoing. His conviction follows a three-month court marathon he sat through largely in silence – often to the visible ire of the judge.
His overall bearing was a far cry from his antics between 1999 and 2009, when he taunted German politicians – with actual or threatened “revelations” about yet more illegal payments – from the safety of his second home in Canada.
Mr Schreiber fled Germany in 1995 after the police raided his house on suspicion of tax evasion. Prosecutors issued an arrest warrant in 1997, and two years later Mr Schreiber, a German and Canadian citizen, moved on to Canada.
Their tax probe led prosecutors to the one-time party treasurer of the Christian Democrats under Mr Kohl. He admitted accepting an undeclared donation from Mr Schreiber, precipitating other revelations.
Mr Kohl said he had accepted secret payments from donors who wanted to remain anonymous. He quit as the Christian Democrats’ honorary chairman and paid a fine in return for prosecutors dropping their investigation.
Deported from Canada last year, Mr Schreiber did not meet such leniency. Judge Weigell said that he was “of a species only out for its own benefit” – and his sentence was meant to show important citizens could not get off the hook.