Extradited arms dealer faces 15 years in jail: prosecutor

4th August 2009, Comments 0 comments

After losing a decade-long battle to avoid extradition, Karlheinz Schreiber, 75, touched down in Munich where German police were waiting to take him to a single cell in Augsburg prison to await trial on bribery, fraud and tax evasion charges.

Munich -- An arms dealer extradited from Canada to Germany over his alleged role in a scandal that helped propel Chancellor Angela Merkel to power could face 15 years in jail, prosecutors said on Monday.

After losing a decade-long battle to avoid extradition, Karlheinz Schreiber, 75, touched down in Munich where German police were waiting to take him to a single cell in Augsburg prison to await trial.

Schreiber faces charges of bribery, fraud and tax evasion, said Reinhard Nemetz, chief prosecutor. "The maximum sentence could be up to 15 years in prison," he told reporters.

Nemetz said the accused was in good shape physically and would appear at a closed-door hearing on Tuesday to have the charges against him read out.

However, it was still not clear whether the politically sensitive case would be heard in court before the national elections on September 27.

Herbert Veh, chief justice on the regional court, said: "The date of the national election will not play a role in the decision."

Schreiber is accused of playing a key role in a sprawling slush-fund scandal that rocked the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in the 1990s and tarnished the legacy of former chancellor Helmut Kohl.

He is believed to have made an undeclared one-million-mark (500,000-euro, 712,000-dollar) donation to the CDU, prompting a political scandal that claimed the scalp of then head of the party, Wolfgang Schaeuble, now interior minister.

Kohl acknowledged that the CDU had received illegal donations under his leadership but refused to disclose who had made them.

During the affair, Merkel wrote an editorial in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily in 1999 calling for Kohl to come clean over the funding scandal and for the party to break with its murky past.

Merkel's willingness to put her head over the parapet and challenge Kohl -- a legend within the party -- marked her out as a future leader and she was elected head of the CDU the following year.

Schreiber also stands accused of evading taxes on millions of euros in income from arms deals as well as offering bribes to ensure government approval for the sale of armoured cars to Saudi Arabia.

A Canadian court on Sunday rejected his final appeal to avoid extradition to Germany and he was flown out from Toronto later that night.

"Over a 10-year period, Mr. Schreiber was given every reasonable opportunity to challenge his extradition," said Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.

"His surrender to Germany was in full accord with the law and consistent with the spirit and purpose of extradition."

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Schreiber, who holds dual Canadian and German nationalities, said his extradition was politically motivated, with a general election less than two months away.

"The Social Democrats won three elections with my case in the past," he said, referring to the junior partner in Merkel's coalition government.

"If I come now that would be the greatest thing, it would start a huge investigation and... they would think they could win the next election."

The Social Democrats are currently trailing Merkel's conservative bloc by as much as 15 points in the polls.

However, one of Merkel's key allies dismissed the notion that Schreiber's return would have an impact on the forthcoming election.

"It has no political relevance," said Horst Seehofer, head of Merkel's Bavarian sister party, the CSU.

Wolfgang Thierse, a senior Social Democrat, concurred, telling MDR Info radio: "Schreiber's extradition has nothing to do with the election battle."

AFP/Expatica

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